New data on missing Yemenite children shows gross negligence, but not state-sponsored kidnappings
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New data on missing Yemenite children shows gross negligence, but not state-sponsored kidnappings

Release of over 400,000 documents reveals widespread indifference to families' plight, but does not vindicate horrifying, long-held conspiracy theories

A nursery at the Rosh Ha'ayin refugee camp housing Yemenite Jewish immigrants in the 1950s (Brauner Teddy/GPO)
A nursery at the Rosh Ha'ayin refugee camp housing Yemenite Jewish immigrants in the 1950s (Brauner Teddy/GPO)

As the Israeli public and media began perusing hundreds of thousands of newly released documents pertaining to the missing “Yemenite Children Affair,” early reports on the files from a 2001 government inquiry appeared to dispel notions of state-sponsored abductions of children during the early years of the state as has been alleged by many Yemenite families.

However, the reports and testimonies also suggested widespread disregard, negligence and indifference on the part of state institutions in their dealings with the families of missing children.

The declassified documents point to numerous cases of children being taken away from their families to receive medical treatment without parental approval, proper documentation, and identification procedures. Families subsequently lost all trace of their loved ones, with deaths going unreported and children being put up for adoption after authorities claimed their families had disappeared.

In one case reported by the Haaretz daily, a couple who arrived in Israel in October 1949 and were put in a tent camp south of Haifa lost two of their children in December of that year: One was taken from the tent for a checkup when his parents were out, and vanished. Another was born days later and promptly disappeared from a clinic for newborns in which he was being held for observation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference inaugurating the State archive on the "Yemenite Children Affair," now open to the public online, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 28, 2016. Alongside him is state archivist Yaakov Lozowick. Families from Yemenite and North African Jewish communities maintain the Israeli government systematically kidnapped their children from Israeli hospitals and put them up for adoption during the immigration wave in the 1950s. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference inaugurating the State archive on the “Yemenite Children Affair,” now open to the public online, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 28, 2016. Alongside him is state archivist Yaakov Lozowick. Families from Yemenite and North African Jewish communities maintain the Israeli government systematically kidnapped their children from Israeli hospitals and put them up for adoption during the immigration wave in the 1950s. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

The parents were later told that both had died. Only years later did the couple find that the first had been buried in Haifa with no mention of his last name, while the second had been buried somewhere near Karkur, without any mention of the specific location in official documents.

In a case covered by Channel 2, one-year-old Malka Tzuri was hospitalized in Haifa after drinking a small amount of crude oil. Her mother was instructed to return the next day, only to be told upon her return that her daughter had died during the night and had already been buried. The family was never provided with a burial location.

In another instance, twins David and Rachel Nissan were hospitalized in Haifa’s Rambam Hospital when they were one week old. When David’s father Kaduri came to give blood for his son, he was told the child had died. He never saw the body. Rachel disappeared from her ward days later. Hospital administrators were unable to account for her for months, and finally informed the parents that Rachel had died. In both cases, faulty record-keeping and bureaucratic indifference appeared to be behind the disappearances.

The decades-long controversy has stemmed from claims by over 1,000 families of immigrants that their children were systematically kidnapped from Israeli hospitals by the nascent state and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad — while their families were informed that they had died.

Most of the immigrants came from Yemen, though some from the Balkans, North Africa and several Middle Eastern countries have also claimed to have been victims of the practice.

A burial certificate for one of the children whose deaths were investigated in the "Yemenite Children Affair" (State Archives)
A burial certificate for one of the children whose deaths were investigated in the “Yemenite Children Affair” (State Archives)

Over the years three government-appointed investigative committees have looked into the allegations but found no evidence of a crime: they concluded that the majority of children died in hospitals and were buried without the families’ being informed or involved.

Much of the evidence examined by those committees was sealed off in state archives. Now, following increasing public pressure, over 400,000 papers have been released on a new website.

One file examined by the Ynet news website dealt with a child who had been placed in a care home in Tiberias, after authorities claimed her mother “disappeared.” A document stated that “all efforts to locate the mother have failed,” but the website noted that according to the file the only effort to that effect had been an ad taken out in a newspaper.

Another file from 1954 told of a child who was handed over for adoption after her mother allegedly left the country, with the father’s identity unknown. The adoptive parents, a couple who survived the Holocaust, told officials they had been given no information about the child’s identity or past. A social worker who worked on the case was quoted in one document as saying it was “unreasonable that the applicants received the child without a birth certificate or any other information on her identity.”

Amram, an Israeli organization dedicated to uncovering the truth of the affair, said Wednesday it welcomed the declassification of documents but noted that many details remained under wraps.

“This is an important step, but we must remember that the (investigative) committees sought to dismiss state responsibility for the kidnappings and avoided (properly) looking into the matter,” the group said. “The information found or not found in official archives is not a requirement for recognition of this crime.”

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