Israel’s National Library has uploaded the publicly available sections of a 2001 state-commissioned report on the alleged disappearance of over 1,000 Yemenite children in Israel in the 1950s, known as the “Yemenite Children affair.”
The library said on its website on Thursday that the report and the testimonies of Yemenite immigrant families contained therein “are now available free for online reading by anyone, anywhere in the world.”
However, the protocols of the commission remain classified until 2071.
The mystery of the children’s disappearance, amid ongoing accusations that they were kidnapped by the state and handed over to wealthy families for adoption, has gained renewed attention recently.
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 this low point in Israeli history. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the appointment 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.”
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, in the largest cover-up in the history of the State of Israel. Disputed by scholars and seemingly refuted by probes — including the 2001 investigation — the case keeps 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. And there have been cases where adopted children were able to confirm, through paternity tests, they were from Yemenite families who were told they had died.
Since 1967, three separate investigative committees have concluded that the majority of the missing children had died and, due to insensitive or racist hospital policies, been buried without their parents’ knowledge.
While library officials noted that the 2001 commission “found no factual evidence of institutional, organized abduction of the children, it did find isolated instances in which children were given for adoption without their parents’ knowledge or consent.”
They noted that making the report available online would provide the public with “important and disturbing information that may not have reache the general public, such as data on the ease in which infants were taken to hospital for extended periods, without supervision, without proper documentation and with their families sometimes barred from seeing them.” In other cases “children died and were buired without their parents knowing about it.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Culture Minister Miri Regev have both indicated support for declassifying the documents.
The problem with declassifying the files is twofold, the state archivist told the Knesset committee. The first is a law governing official probes, which places the transcripts under lock and key for 30 years, unless the government intervenes. The second is a privacy law that maintains that all sensitive information on personal citizens must remain confidential until their deaths. With no way to track whether the citizens in questions died, the state opted to seal it for 70 years, ensuring they would no longer be living when the documents are released. The cabinet alone can override the first, but overcoming the privacy law would likely require Knesset support, he said. Since 2002, the government has allowed families to view their own files, he added.
There are 3,500 cases, and over 1.5 million documents on the affair, state archivist Yaakov Lozowick told the committee, which would take approximately 1,000 work days to scan and sort through. Given a directive, “we would be happy to open anything,” he said.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.