Stories of babies “disappeared” from Yemenite families by Israel in the early years of the state have spurred three probes, with the government examining claims made by over 1,000 families who came to the country in the 1940s and 1950s from Middle Eastern countries.
A new investigation into the allegations, however, has suggested that the practice went beyond the communities of Yemenite, North African and other Middle Eastern Jews, who up until now were assumed to have been the only victims of the practice. Dozens of testimonies collected by the Haaretz newspaper suggest that the phenomenon also included children of Ashkenazi origin who had emigrated to Israel from Western countries, many born to Holocaust survivors.
In a report published Friday, Haaretz said it had received information about dozens of new immigrants from Eastern Europe who were separated from their infant children and do not know what happened to them. “It happened both in hospitals in Israel and at the British detention camps in Cyprus before the founding of Israel,” the report said.
The report did not give an exact number, but estimated that “the figures reach dozens of cases and maybe even more.” On Sunday, Haaretz said that in response to the article, it had received an additional 40 testimonies over the weekend.
Families from Yemenite and North African Jewish communities maintain the government systematically kidnapped hundreds of their children from Israeli hospitals and put them up for adoption with the influx of immigration in the 1950s.
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 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.”
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, 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.
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 until 2071.
In that report, babies from non-Yemenite families were mentioned in a short clause titled, “The disappearance of babies from other communities,” according to Haaretz. A table attached to the report claimed that 30 cases of children of “European” or “American” origin were among those who disappeared.
“The circumstances of the disappearance of the babies of other communities are very similar to the circumstances of the disappearance of the Yemenite immigrants’ babies,” the inquiry commission wrote.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.