Israel's High Court of Justice has refused to order police to investigate the disappearance of a six-month-old baby of Iranian immigrants in 1950, whose story resembles reports of mass disappearances of Yemenite children in the state's early days. For 70 years, her siblings have been trying to find out what became of her.
Yaffa Malairy was admitted to a government hospital in Haifa ‒ today Rambam Medical Center ‒ in 1950. A few days after the infant’s hospitalization, her mother was told she had died. But the hospital’s visit summary said she had “left the ward in generally good condition.”
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In a ruling issued this week, the court said in regard to the child’s siblings, “With all our understanding of the pain and doubts that still accompany them about their sister’s fate,” there is no justification for overruling the police’s decision not to investigate the case. The ruling also noted that three commissions of inquiry have investigated the disappearance of children of Yemenite immigrants in the 1950s, and none had recommended opening a criminal investigation into the affair.
Yaffa’s story is similar to that of many of missing Yemenite children. However, the authorities haven’t been able to find any clues as to what became of her, such as a death certificate, an adoption certificate or gravesite, whereas they have found such documents for other families searching for lost children.
The visit summary said that Yaffa, whose parents Tzipporah and Mordechai moved to Israel in 1950, was hospitalized on July 3 of that year in pediatric ward A. According to the petition, her mother visited her the next day, but a few days later, when she came to visit again, she was told that her child had died and been buried. “The mother’s question about the site of the grave wasn’t answered,” the petition added.
In 2000, the family requested and received the visit summary that the hospital had issued on July 16, 1950, which said she had been released in a healthy condition. In 2018, after the state opened its archives regarding Yemenite children, the siblings asked the Interior and Social Affairs Ministries for any information they had about Yaffa.
They were aided by the Amram Association, an organization that helps families, who immigrated to Israel shortly after the state’s establishment in 1948, to investigate the disappearance of their children.
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The ministries told the siblings they had no death certificate for Yaffa, and she was not listed as deceased in the Population Registry. But as the court noted in its ruling, there were also no other documents in her file at the Interior Ministry, such as an identity card or passport, nor was there any evidence that she had been adopted by another family.
Based on this information, the siblings asked the police to open an investigation into Yaffa’s whereabouts, saying she might have been kidnapped from the hospital. But the police refused, citing the long period of time that had passed since she disappeared and the fact that most of the people involved were deceased.
The Amram Association said it isn’t aware of any other families asking police to investigate such a case.
The state, in its response to the petition, sided with the police. “The statute of limitations on the crime, if there was one, elapsed decades ago,” its brief said. “And after 70 years, it’s hard to probe the allegations through a police investigation.”
However, the brief acknowledged that the commissions investigating the disappearance of the Yemenite children had found cases in which children were released from the hospital and sent to an orphanage or put up for adoption “due to the absence of their parents,” and “such proceedings sometimes weren’t properly documented.”
In 2019, Yaffa’s siblings petitioned the court, arguing that “solving this particular case could be a breakthrough to solving the case of the kidnapped Yemenite children in its entirety.” That’s because unlike in similar cases, there’s an official state document attesting to Yaffa’s release, but no death or adoption certificate, attorney Yishai Sarid wrote in the petition.
The police’s decision not to investigate, the petition added, “ignores the great public interest in holding an investigation – the open wound constituted by the disappearance of children of immigrant families in the state’s early years and the narrow window of historical opportunity in which the state could, even if only slightly, correct the injustice done as long as there’s any chance of finding the missing children alive.”
In their ruling, the justices responded: “Resolving the doubts would ease people’s minds, and we wish we were capable of giving the petitioners this comfort. But because we find no unreasonableness or any other legal flaw in the police’s decision, we can do nothing but reject the petition.”
Nevertheless, they acknowledged that “the visit summary proves that Yaffa was released from the hospital alive, healthy and in good condition; she wasn’t dead or buried as her parents were told. Given this, and noting the lack of an adoption file, the parents concluded that Yaffa was kidnapped and her identity changed by the kidnapper.”
The Amram Association protested the court’s decision, saying, “even in a case where the documents show that the baby was released from the hospital in good condition and that state representatives lied to the family when they said she had died, to this day the state and various agencies – the police, the prosecution and the High Court – aren’t capable of giving the family relief and assistance. Had there been institutional recognition of the injustice [done to] the families and institutionalized methods for reparation and healing, perhaps the state would have seen fit to try to find Yaffa Malairy, and thereby tried, even if belatedly, to correct the unbearable injustice done her family.”