State told to release 300,000 unpublished files on missing Yemenite children

Justice Minister Shaked orders police documents be produced; calls on two health and welfare organizations to publish any material they have

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

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Sunday instructed the Israel State Archives to release some 300,000 unpublished files relating to the children of Yemenite immigrants, whose disappearance after their arrival in Israel over half a century ago has been at the center of a lingering controversy.

The Knesset Committee for Archives, chaired by Shaked, heard that the hundreds of thousands of Israel Police files have not been previously published and that their existence was apparently largely unknown.

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, in what is known as the Yemenite children affair.

Shaked told the archives to conduct a review of the files and then release them. She also instructed the Israel Defense Forces to release any relevant statistics it has about the Yemenite children, on condition that they do not impact the privacy of individuals, Army Radio reported.

The Kan national broadcaster reported that Shaked also called on the Women’s International Zionist Organization and the Hadassah organization to release relevant archives they have on the matter. The WIZO and Hadassah volunteer organizations both played a major role in establishing welfare and health care services in Israel before and after the establishment of the state.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks during a ceremony at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, on August 9, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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 of adopted children who were able to confirm, through DNA tests, that they were from Yemenite families who were told they had died.

In July the Knesset passed a law 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.

A February law allowed the opening of graves for the purpose of genetic testing which allows families of children who went missing to seek a court-ordered exhumation of remains to enable DNA comparisons.

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

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