Experts said to identify DNA from remains exhumed in state kidnapping probe

Genetic profile successfully reconstructed for first time in Yemenite Children Affair; results to be compared with Yosef Melamed’s relatives to see if exhumed remains belong to him

Forensic teams exhumes the grave of Yosef Melamed at the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery on July 27, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Forensic teams exhumes the grave of Yosef Melamed at the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery on July 27, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israeli forensic scientists have reportedly decoded the complete genetic profile of a deceased child exhumed as part of an investigation into allegations that Israeli authorities took away the children of immigrants in the early days of the state.

Forensic experts at the Israeli National Institute of Forensic Medicine, also known as Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, were able to reconstruct the genetic profile from remains extracted two weeks ago from a grave marked as belonging to Yosef Melamed — a child born to Yemenite immigrants who was pronounced dead in the hospital after suffering an illness nearly 75 years ago, the Ynet news site reported Tuesday.

This is the first time experts have managed to extract a complete DNA profile from remains exhumed as part of the decades-long Yemenite Children Affair.

Melamed’s family does not believe the child died or is buried there. His mother, Shulamit Melamed, now in her 90s, believes instead that her son was kidnapped and adopted and is still alive today.

The test results have been sent to the family and will be compared with DNA test results of Melamed’s immediate living family, once those are available, the report said.

View of Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine near Tel Aviv, June 13, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A previous attempt to produce DNA profiles from 10 other graves exhumed as part of the affair some 25 years ago, when DNA identification was still a relatively new science, had failed to reach conclusive results, according to Ynet.

Today, new technology has made it possible to identify complete profiles using very limited and often damaged DNA samples, which are usually typical in bodies that have been buried for a very long time.

The so-called Yemenite Children Affair involves more than 1,000 families — mostly immigrants from Yemen, but also dozens from the Balkans, North Africa, and other Middle Eastern countries — who have alleged their children were abducted from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad, in the early years after the founding of the State of Israel.

Forensic teams exhumes the grave of Yosef Melamed at the Nahalat Yitshak Cemetery on July 27, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Over the years, official state inquiries have dismissed all claims of mass abductions organized by medical staff or government workers. Nevertheless, suspicions have lingered and contributed to a long-standing fault line between Jews of European origin and those of Middle Eastern backgrounds.

Three high-profile investigative commissions dismissed the claims of a conspiracy and found that most children had died of diseases in immigration camps. The most recent inquiry, in 2001, said it was possible that some children were handed over for adoption by individual social workers, but not as part of a national conspiracy. However, citing privacy laws, it ordered that the testimonies it had collected remain sealed for 70 years.

In February 2021, the government approved a NIS 162 million (almost $50 million) compensation program over the issue of the Yemenite children.

The proposal included a declaration that “the government of Israel regrets the events that happened in the early days of the state and recognizes the suffering of families whose children were part of this painful issue.”

However, a number of families involved demanded that the government reveal confidential documents relating to the matter, calling the compensation plan “hush money.”

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