Missing Files on Israeli Yemenite Children Who Disappeared in the 1950s Made Public

About a year after 3,500 files were made public based on a cabinet resolution, the Justice Ministry’s freedom-of-information unit has released a list of files that have disappeared

Yemenite children at an absorption center in Rosh Ha'ayin, 1949.
Teddy Brauner/GPO

Thirty-eight files on the disappearance of children from Yemenite Israeli families in the 1950s are missing from the state archives – files that were absent about a year ago when the contents of 3,500 files on the subject –were published.

The 38 files include lists of children considered missing, lists of children who died in the hospital, burial-society documents and information on children who disappeared. On Wednesday, the Justice Ministry’s Government Unit for Freedom of Information posted the list of missing files on its website, in Hebrew.

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“When information is released to the public, also important is what is not released,” Rivka Dvash, the lawyer who heads the Government Unit for Freedom of Information, told Haaretz. “Through precise mapping, we have discovered that 38 files have gone missing from the state archives and have not been publicly disclosed, and of course this is important, appropriate and even essential to inform the public about.”

The struggle by Yemenite families whose children disappeared shortly after Israel’s founding has prompted the state to take a number of steps in recent years. First, it opened classified documents on the findings of an investigative committee that looked into the affair. This effort a year ago did not solve the mystery of the children’s disappearance but provided a wellspring of information on the affair.

Representatives of the families have negotiated with the Prime Minister’s Office over the affair, seeking an apology by the state and compensation. 

A state commission of inquiry that reviewed the affair and published its findings in 2001 did not find proof that Yemenite children were kidnapped, as their families claim. Instead, the commission concluded that most of the children had died of diseases.

Still, the families have proved that they did not receive official documentation of these alleged deaths and the place of burial. Thus if the children did die and were buried, this was done without the families knowing about it, sometimes for decades.  

At the end of 2016, after a cabinet resolution, the state archives disclosed all the material in its possession about the missing Yemenite children. Thousands of files containing hundreds of thousands of documents were scanned and posted on the archives’ website, giving the families access to the information.

A year after this information was disclosed, the state archives’ chief archivist, Yaacov Lozowick, presented complete data on the scope of the disclosure. The data, which Lozowick provided to a special Knesset committee on the disappearance of the Yemenite children, shows that 3,482 files were opened to the public. Another 50 remained off-limits either for reasons of intellectual property rights or the right to privacy. In addition, Lozowick was told that another 87 files were “missing.”

Sources have told Haaretz that, for such a large undertaking as the archives has been carrying out, the percentage of files that have gone missing over many years is negligible. Some were removed from the location where they were stored but were refiled by mistake elsewhere and later found. Others, however, have not been recovered.

Also, there is no proof that anyone deliberately concealed the files. Every year a number of files are lost on other subjects as well.

The Government Unit for Freedom of Information decided to review the list of files missing from the state archives and found that 38 of the 87 files had disappeared, while the rest had been misfiled.

The 38 files that have disappeared were deposited with the state archives over the years and included documents that were considered by three different investigative committees that met in recent decades to get to the bottom of the affair.

“Dozens of files that were considered by various investigative committees were hidden away or disappeared over the years, and no one can say where they are,” a source told Haaretz.

In addition to the 38 files, a great deal of other archival material on Yemenite children has either disappeared or was destroyed in recent decades at other archives around the country. This includes files from maternity facilities, immigrant camps, baby care facilities and cemeteries.

In some cases missing files indicates the subject of the files. The list includes files under the headings “Investigative Files – Missing Yemenite Children – A Family from a Kibbutz”; “Shalgi Committee – Index Cards of Names of Missing Children and File Number of the Missing”; “Investigative Files – Missing Yemenite Children – List of Children who Died in the Hospital”; and “Investigative Files – Missing Yemenite Children – Burial Society, Pardes Hannah, Rishon Letzion.”

In addition, the list includes references to files with the names of missing children, including those of Sa’ada Bat-Margalit Barzilai, Paltiel Ben-David Rada and Shimon Eliyahu. The list of the missing files also includes one entitled “Report of the Investigative Committee on the Murder of Dr. Chaim Arlosoroff,” a reference to the Zionist leader who was killed in Tel Aviv in 1933, even though there is no apparent connection with the case of the Yemenite children of the ‘50s.

The website of the Government Unit for Freedom of Information also includes another document of public value that hitherto escaped attention. The state commission of inquiry on the case found that 1,053 children, mostly infants, had disappeared.

The commission found that the vast majority of them had died of disease and that the fate of 69 others remained unknown. According to work by the Government Unit for Freedom of Information that included a recount and cross-referencing, the actual number was not 69 but 80.