Families of Missing Yemenite Children Required to Sign Waiver as Condition for Reparations, Sparking Backlash

Historic decision earmarking 162 million shekels for families of 1,000 children who went missing in Israel’s early years, stipulated that payout would be contingent on waiver, but language was only published this week

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Yemenite Jewish children at a transit camp in Aden await transferred to Israel, December 1949.
Yemenite Jewish children at a transit camp in Aden await transferred to Israel, December 1949.Credit: David Eldan/GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A waiver published by the Finance Ministry this week as a condition for the release of landmark reparations approved in February for the mass disappearance of children from Yemenite immigrant families in Israel's early days, has drawn criticism from organizations that represent the affected families, on the grounds that the language is overly broad and intends to silence them. 

Beginning on Tuesday until November 30, affected families will be able to apply to receive compensation in accordance with the cabinet’s decision in February to formally "recognize the families’ suffering" and earmark 162 million shekels (nearly $50 million) for the mass disappearance of over 1,000 children from Yemenite immigrant families during the first decade of the state's establishment, roughly 70 years ago.

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In accordance with the cabinet’s decision, families who were not informed of their children’s deaths, the related circumstances, and the location of burial are entitled to receive 150,000 shekels ($45,900), whereas families whose children’s fate remains unknown are entitled to receive 200,000 shekels ($61,500).  The sums are to be divided among the deceased child’s parents and siblings.

Although the decision in February stipulated that release of the funds would be contingent on the signing of a waiver of all financial claims, the wording of the waiver was only made public this week, when the waiver form was published ahead of the application window start date next week.  

The waiver published by the Finance Ministry states in pertinent part that in order to receive compensation, affected families must agree to waive “financial claims of any kind … any existing or future suit, demand or claim from the State of Israel or any other entity,” regarding the children of “Yemen, the East and the Balkans,” or to any child." It also states that “receipt of the monetary amount constitutes and final and absolute settlement” of all suits, demands and claims. 

Organizations representing the affected families claim that the waiver, as drafted, is as an attempt to silence them, and have called on the families to refuse to sign the form. “The Finance Ministry conditions receipt of compensation on the signing of an arbitrary and sweeping waiver form, which reeks of sealing mouths, with the intention of silencing the voices of families who have been crying out for years for recognition and disclosure of the truth in the difficult case."

A 2018 protest in Jerusalem demanding justice for the Yemenite familiesCredit: Emil Salman

The organizations added that "Families are asked to pledge that they will make no more demands regarding the child taken from them, or demand that the truth regarding the fate of the children be investigated or call for responsibility to be assumed. This is not acceptable. One organization described the waiver as "You will receive money - provided that you remain silent forever."

In response, the Finance Ministry has stated that "out of understanding and recognition of the families' suffering, in February the Israeli government approved a plan for monetary compensation, knowing that no plan can bring relief to the suffering caused to families. The required waiver relates only to financial claims, and the issue will be explicitly clarified in order to remove any doubt in this matter." The Finance Ministry also noted that the reparations plan was formulated together with the Justice Ministry.

In the years immediately following Israel’s establishment, primarily from 1948 to 1954, more than 1,000 babies born to Yemenite immigrant families disappeared. According to numerous accounts, the children disappeared either immediately after birth or after being hospitalized due to illness. Some of the families were told that their children had died, but they were not shown a body, did not receive a death certificate, or information on a burial.

Eighteen years later, the families received draft notices for the children – prompting claims that the children had been abducted in a secret, organized, institutionalized plan to give them or to sell them to childless Holocaust survivors. The affair was investigated by three official committees – in the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s, the latter being a state commission of inquiry that finished its work in 2001.

All three panels came to similar conclusions: that most of the children died of illness and that there was no evidence of their institutionalized abduction. The state commission of inquiry found that 1,053 children, most of them babies, had disappeared; that the vast majority of them clearly had died of illnesses; that it was probable that 48 of them had died; and that the fate of 69 children was unknown.

Immigrants from Yemen at the Rosh Ha’ayin transit camp, 1949.Credit: Teddy Brauner/GPO

In 2017, following the disclosure of documents by the State Archives, the Knesset convened a special committee to investigate the affair. The committee found widespread negligence, racist and remiss conduct on the part of officials, and carelessness in recording the details of hospitalized children, which in some cases led to their adoption without the knowledge or consent of the biological parents. However, they also found no proof of a state-led plan to abduct children.

In recent years, Yemenite families filed lawsuits demanding that graves be reopened to determine whether their children were buried there. Three years ago, the government approved a plan permitting the graves to be opened.

In addition to the children of Yemenite families, children of immigrant families from other regions, including the Balkans, and the children of Ashkenazi families also disappeared, as was reported by Haaretz in 2016. The cabinet resolution makes reference to the children of “Yemen, the East and the Balkans,” but doesn’t note the children of Ashkenazi families who disappeared under similar circumstances.

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