Israel Vows to Reveal Truth About 'Kidnapped' Yemenite Children

Minister Hanegbi to examine possibility of publishing archived material on affair, to 'lift the secrecy that has accompanied the issue.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday entered the debate on the fate of children of immigrants from Yemen who disappeared in the state’s early days, calling to “reveal the truth about the Yemenite children,” and said that “the time has come to know what happened and to do justice here.”

Between 1948 and 1954, somewhere between 1,500 and 5,000 Sephardic children, mainly Yemenite toddlers, were reported missing, with many parents being told their children had died, sparking claims they were kidnapped and given to Ashkenazi couples. Three separate committees that investigated the affair ruled that most of the children had died of sickness and that a small minority had been put up for adoption.

Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page that “the subject of the Yemenite children is an open wound that continues to bleed for many families who don’t know what happened to the infants, to the children who disappeared, and they’re seeking the truth.” He added that he did not understand the immunity imposed on documents relating to the affair and promised to check the issue.

During the upcoming cabinet meeting or the one following, the government is expected to authorize Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Tzachi Hanegbi to begin examining the material. Hanegbi promised to consider publication of all the minutes except for those shielded by privacy laws.

“It may not dull the families’ longing, but it will help them understand what happened to their loved ones,” he told Haaretz recently. “I probably won’t be able to solve all the mysteries, but it may lift the secrecy that has accompanied the issue since the founding of the state.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has offered Hanegbi assistance from her staff.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog joined the call to publish the material. “The minutes of the Yemenite children affair should be revealed and the families should receive answers insofar as possible,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “They’ve been waiting for decades. It’s a wound that for years nobody wanted to open, but in its 68th year Israeli society is definitely capable of dealing with it even if the truth is painful.”

Dark past comes to light

State Archivist Dr. Yaakov Lazovik Tuesday told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that “about one-and-a-half-million pages of minutes are deposited in the [state] archives. Personally I’ll be very happy to open them, we don’t want to hide anything.”

He added that “the law imposes two restrictions: The Archives Law closes archives for 30 years – some have been stored since 1996 and some since 2001 – but the government can order them opened earlier. The Protection of Privacy Law forbids revealing information about citizens as long as they are alive. Because we have no way of knowing if they are alive, we have to wait 70 years. In 2002 it was decided that anyone can see material related to his family. If it is decided to reveal the material it will take us a few weeks to scan it.”

Lazovik suggested blacking out the names “and revealing the documents already now.”

Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky said that if the government decides not to publish the minutes he would submit a proposal that he believes would receive a large majority in the Knesset.

Five MKs spoke about the disappearance of relatives in the 1950s. One of them, Nava Boker, said that she is personally familiar with the subject. “My parents are no longer alive. My mother said she gave birth to a daughter and the hospital told her that the child had died. When she asked to see the body and bring it for burial she was told that the child had been sent for an autopsy. She was nave and accepted it. My sister may have been kidnapped and given to another family and we don’t know what happened to her. A year-and-a-half ago I was approached by a reporter who had found two graves in my siblings’ names. The hevra kadisha [religious burial society] gave us vague answers and we let it go. Today the wound was reopened. If my siblings are alive it’s important to me to meet them.”

Yossi Gamliel told the committee about his brother’s disappearance. “My brother Yohanan, born in 1954, felt unwell at the age of 9 months. He was sent to Kaplan Hospital and later to Eitanim Hospital. When my parents came to visit they were told that he had died and the hospital had buried Yohanan. In the 1950s parents didn’t ask many questions. I received the papers, and at the top of the chart it said he was sent ‘home.’ I go to the grave and discover that there’s someone else there. I tell the hevra kadisha representative that it isn’t Yohanan and he says, ‘Yohanan is buried underneath.’”

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