Thursday, July 8, 1999
"He walked into jail on his own two feet and now has to be carried out," muttered one of Uzi Meshulam's followers yesterday as he watched his leader carried out on a stretcher from the van that transported him to his Yehud home from prison.
Meshulam was sentenced in 1995 to eight years in prison after he and his followers barricaded themselves in his home, throwing Molotov cocktails and opening fire on police. He was released early yesterday under strict limitations.
The years in jail changed Meshulam almost beyond recognition. Gone is the fiery leader who barricaded himself and his enthusiastic followers in his home, calling on the state to set up an official commission of inquiry into allegations that Yemenite children were kidnapped from their parents and given to Ashkenazi families, in the 1950s.
Instead, a sickly, exhausted man emerged from the prison walls, forced to agree to severe limitations in order to win his freedom. Among other things, he is forbidden to meet with his followers, to take part in conventions, to talk to the press and worst of all - to make any statements regarding the alleged kidnapping of Yemenite children.
His followers did not gather to greet him at his home yesterday. Only a small, hand written sign on the door welcomed "our teacher, rabbi and crowning glory." Oded Zakai, speaking on behalf of the Meshulam family, explained they saw no point in people coming to greet Meshulam. "It is unpleasant for him to be seen in his condition," Zakai said. "Were he healthy and walking on his own two feet, things would be different. The problem is that Rabbi Uzi suffers from many ailments, and the most important thing now, for him and for us, is to get his health back."
Attorney Rami Tzuberi, who worked tirelessly in the past few months to reduce Meshulam's sentence, said he felt a chapter had been closed in the Yemenite children affair. After exhausting all standard arguments to convince the judge to release his client, Tzuberi had thought of another reason. "Your honor," he appealed to the judge. "Rabbi Meshulam's early release should be viewed as part of the current reconciliation mood of Israeli society." The judge was impressed by this reasoning, even listing it in his ruling as one of the reasons for the early release.
Tzuberi, of Yemenite descent himself, was unable to crack the riddle of the missing Yemenite children. He recently finished writing a book on the affair, but remains with no clear-cut conclusion. "It is possible that there was no explicit order by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to remove Yemenite children from their families," he explains, "but there was an unspoken agreement by certain institutions to do just that. I was unable to uncover the culprits.