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High Court says lawsuit on disappeared Yemenite children should be heard

Families suing the state for responsibility over 11 kids who vanished after arriving in the country in 1950s; justices cite ‘worrying concerns about pattern of action’

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

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday instructed a district court to consider a lawsuit against the state and the Jewish Agency for Israel filed by Yemenite immigrants who say their children and siblings were taken from them by the authorities in the 1950s.

The compensation lawsuit seeks to force the state to accept responsibility for at least 11 infants known to have disappeared from public institutions such as hospitals and daycare centers after their families arrived in Israel between 1948 and 1954.

In its ruling the court wrote that there are “worrying concerns about one pattern of action by the respondents.”

The petitioners claim the children were taken away from their parents by Israeli authorities who never told them of their fate. They argue that the incidents were not an assortment of unconnected cases but rather reflected a policy at the time.

The state has argued that each of the cases named in the lawsuit has different circumstances and should be clarified individually rather than together. Bundling the cases into one lawsuit could delay a conclusion, the state said.

In February a district court rejected the suit after accepting the state’s argument, leading to the High Court petition.

In its Tuesday ruling the High Court found that there “seems to be a common aspect that unites the personal stories of all the families.”

A Yemenite Jewish family travels to a refugee camp set up by the Joint Distribution Committee near Aden. (GPO/Public domain)

Some 49,000 Yemeni Jews were brought to the nascent State of Israel in Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50. 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 kidnapped from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad, in what is known as the Yemenite children affair.

Disputed by scholars and seemingly refuted by three state commissions that examined the matter 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.

Families have noted that many of the children’s death certificates were riddled with errors, and most of the missing children had sent army draft notices sent to their families 18 years after their alleged deaths. There have also been sporadic cases of adopted children who were able to confirm, through DNA tests, that they were from Yemenite families who were told they had died.

A 2001 report by the Cohen-Kedmi state commission on the issue concluded that there was no evidence of a systematic or state-sponsored effort to remove the children from their families, and that the large majority had died as the families were told — but also that 69 children disappeared without a trace from state hospitals and other institutions, whose representatives then lied to the families about their fate.

The claims have also been tied into the neglect and marginalization with which many Muslim-world Jewish immigrants were greeted when they arrived in an Israel controlled at the time by an Ashkenazi Jewish elite.

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