Government okays unsealing papers on vanished Yemenite children
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Government okays unsealing papers on vanished Yemenite children

400,000 documents deal with claims that hundreds were kidnapped from Israeli hospitals in 1950s and put up for adoption

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Yemenite immigrants in a camp near Ein Shemer in 1950. (Pinn Hans/GPO)
Yemenite immigrants in a camp near Ein Shemer in 1950. (Pinn Hans/GPO)

The government voted Sunday to declassify some 400,000 documents in connection with allegations that hundreds of Yemenite children were kidnapped from Israeli hospitals in the 1950s and handed over to wealthy families for adoption.

Since the 1950s, over 1,000 families — mostly Yemenite, but also dozens from the Balkans, North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries — have alleged their children were systematically kidnapped from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad. The claims were generally dismissed by authorities.

Over the past several decades, the government has appointed three investigative committees to probe the case, with all concluding the majority of children died in the hospital and were simply buried without the families’ being informed or involved. The last panel to probe the affair in 2001 reached similar conclusions, but sealed various testimonies from the probe in the state archive for 70 years.

Sunday’s decision means that those testimonies along with several other collections of documents, which were to be sealed in the state archives until 2071, will be unsealed and even posted on the internet following a final authorization by the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee.

A conference on the Yemenite Children Affair in the Knesset on June 21, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A conference on the Yemenite Children Affair in the Knesset on June 21, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The decision, which comes after a recent surge in public interest and petitions, represents a major step for families who claim their children were taken in what has been described as the largest cover-up in the history of the State of Israel.

In June, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well as the prime minister and justice minister, expressed willingness to declassify the documents and grapple with that low point in Israeli history. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the appointment of Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi to draft a government recommendation on the matter of the classified documents, noting that “as of this moment, I don’t know why it [the directive to seal the documents] exists.”

Likud MK and head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK and head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Hanegbi said releasing the documents will “end this unbearable situation, unjustified confidentiality, that has been imposed for 70 years on these materials,” adding that he could not find any justification for their ongoing confidentiality. This “will put an end to the suspicion, skepticism and mistrust toward the state agencies by the families,” he said.

Disputed by scholars and seemingly refuted by probes, the case has kept resurfacing, not least because most of the families were not given their children’s bodies or informed of their burial places, death certificates were riddled with errors, and most of the missing children were sent army draft notices 18 years after their alleged deaths. There have also been cases where adopted children were able to confirm, through paternity tests, they were from Yemenite families who were told they had died.

Hanegbi also said the move would “allow family members, their authorized representatives, and the public to go online and see the difficult, oppressive and gloomy picture in its fullness, and get as close as possible to understanding the truth.”

The government decision stressed that families involved would be able to review the documents first and could opt out of having certain details released to the public.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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