Still a Long Road for Israelis Who Believe They Were Abducted as Children

The newly released documents show that there was no kidnapping campaign by the authorities back around 1948, but the government must still take steps to make all information available.

Prime Minister David Ben Gurion visiting the cheder at Farradiya transit camp, Nov. 22, 1950.
Eldan David/GPO

Anyone seeking a solution to the affair of missing Yemenite children from the 200,000 documents that the state archive is publishing Wednesday can expect disappointment. Many families whose children disappeared shortly after the state’s founding won’t find a smoking gun that will solve the mystery that has traumatized them for decades.

The material reveals that there was no institutionalized kidnapping of Yemenite children by the authorities, nor is there evidence of any cover-up.

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You don’t need to ask the archive where the children disappeared to. The state archivist, Dr. Yaacov Lozowick, was asked during a press conference last week if releasing the documents would solve the mystery. “By now it's a matter for the public to decide,” he said.

His colleague, Rivki Dvash, head of the Justice Ministry’s Law, Information and Technology Authority, added, “We sought to create maximum transparency, but there will be more questions of that we have no doubt.”

Behind their words hides the realization that opening the documents is just the first stage. It’s a necessary but insufficient step en route to a possible conclusion of the affair.

But the state archive and its head aren’t the address for complaints that the families are likely to raise. On the contrary, they deserve praise for making the most of the digital revolution the archive is undergoing; they quickly and efficiently provided the public with an enormous amount of material.

The government will now have to decide how to proceed, on the reasonable assumption that opening the archive won’t satisfy the families. After all, they’ve lived for decades with the hope that one day the mystery would be solved and their lost son or daughter would be found, or at least the families would learn where their lost children are buried.

What lies ahead? First, many families haven’t yet complained, besides the families who sent complaints to the commission of inquiry whose documents are being released now. Some people didn’t see themselves as connected to the affair named after Yemenite children because they came from Europe, as Haaretz revealed last summer. The government will have to decide whether to establish a new committee or other body to investigate these complaints as well.

Second, the government will have to decide whether to accede to requests for an opening of mass graves where the children are thought to be buried. It’s unfair that each family would have to go through a cumbersome legal and bureaucratic process to receive all the information on the burial plot of their son or daughter, as is happening now.

The state must take full responsibility and establish a database that will map all graves that allegedly contain children who disappeared around the time the state was founded. The state should also fund genetic testing to help determine who the child belonged to.

Third, the government must decide whether to establish a DNA database of the families that claim their children were kidnapped, to allow them to cross-check with the DNA of adopted children who suspect they were kidnapped. The company My Heritage has voiced interest, but the government would have to decide whom to entrust.

Fourth, help will be needed to jump bureaucratic hurdles for children who suspect they were kidnapped or adopted and seek full access to adoption files.

Moreover, the government will have to decide whether to accede to the demand to establish another investigative committee – the fourth in this affair – amid complaints about flaws in the inquiry commission’s work, as reporter Yigal Mashiach revealed in Haaretz 20 years ago.

The families deserve a proper place to turn to for requests on information or assistance. The state archive may have made available a request form, but this only covers information found in documents at the archive. Organizations such as Akhim V’kayamim and Amram help the families, but they’re no substitute for institutional support.