A Mystery That Defies Solution

The latest round in efforts to unravel the mystery of the missing Yemenite children was triggered several years ago by militant rabbi Uzi Meshulam, whose voice was among the loudest calling for the establishment of a new public commission to investigate the affair. That committee submitted its findings yesterday.

Meshulam's aggressive lobbying for an inquiry reached its peak in 1994, when he and dozens of followers turned his home in Yehud into an armed fortress, and hurled Molotov cocktails at a police car. "My men will fight to the very last man," Meshulam cried defiantly at the time, "and any policeman who approaches the house will get a bullet between the eyes."

Meshulam also lobbied in more conventional, non-violent ways, collecting signatures of 68 Knesset members on a petition calling for the establishment of a committee to review the alleged disappearances of Yemenite children during the first years of Israel's existence.

An investigating commission was set up in 1995, but within months the pace and quality of its work was criticized by various public figures as well as by Israelis of Yemenite origin who believe that they lost children in 1950s ma'abarot transit camps. In 1999, Supreme Court justice Yaacov Kedmi was appointed to take charge of the commission.

Over the years, hundreds of statements made by parents who came to Israel from Yemen in 1949 have been recorded and documented. These parents allege that their children were taken from them, and that Israeli and Jewish organizations neither told them what happened to the youngsters nor furnished death certificates.

Two previous public committees had worked on the issue of the Yemenite children. The first submitted its findings at the end of the 1960s, and the second furnished conclusions in 1994. Neither of these earlier panels produced a clear, conclusive portrait of what really happened in the transit camps. No proof of child-snatching was found, but neither committee was able to discover what had happened to 65 Yemenite children.

Due to public pressure, 22 child skeletons mixed in 10 graves were exhumed in 1996 and taken to a laboratory in Britain for DNA testing. The lab was able to take DNA evidence from just one of the skeletons. Many of the Yemenite parents grew skeptical about the DNA testing procedure; some claimed that the children's bones had been replaced by animal bones in the graves.