Adoption files to be opened in lost Yemenite children affair

Under new law, relatives who think their family members were kidnapped by the state can ask a senior social worker to check national records

A worker of the Israel State Archives looks at classified documents related to the Yemenite Children Affair in Jerusalem, December 22, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A worker of the Israel State Archives looks at classified documents related to the Yemenite Children Affair in Jerusalem, December 22, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset approved a bill Tuesday to allow families who came to Israel from Yemen in the early days of the state to find out whether children they claim were kidnapped from them were in fact put up for adoption.

According to the new law, anyone who is concerned that a close relative may have been taken from the family and put up for adoption can request a senior social worker to check the adoption records to see if their relative’s name appears there. If the relative was put up for adoption, the Attorney General will be notified, and he will ask the courts to decide whether to give the details of the adoption to the family seeking their missing relatives.

Currently, citizens who were themselves adopted may search for their family upon reaching the age of 18. Families seeking children who have disappeared did not previously have access to the adoption files.

Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 families — mostly immigrants from Yemen, 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.

Likud MK Nurit Koren attends a Law and Justice committee meeting in the Knesset on January 2, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Likd MK Nurit Koren who chairs the Knesset lobby tasked with researching what is known as the Yemenite Children Affair, and whose own cousin disappeared at a young age, praised the new law.

“This is a historic, revolutionary law which will give answers to the families,” she said. “Today, many families in the state have suffered for many years from uncertainty regarding their dear ones, and they will now, finally, receive answers.

“This proposal is another of the many steps I advanced within the committee I head, whose goal is twofold, the first is to reach the truth of the matter,” she said. “The second is to ease the bureaucratic burden on the families involved in the affair. Opening the adoption records will give an answer and will help us to reach the truth.”

Illustrative: Children being airlifted from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet, in front of an Alaskan Airlines plane. (Courtesy AJM)

This law follows a February bill which allowed the opening of graves for the purpose of genetic testing which allows families of children who went missing in the so-called Yemenite children affair in 1958-1970 to seek a court-ordered exhumation of remains to enable DNA comparisons.

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50.

Disputed by scholars and seemingly refuted by three state commissions that examined the affair and concluded that most of the children had died, 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. Furthermore, 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 DNA tests, that they were from Yemenite families who were told they had died.

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

The bill comes after the state archives declassified 400,000 documents on the affair in December 2016.

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