Israel Expected to Release Documents on Disappearance of Yemenite Children

State commissions have ruled that most of the hundreds of children who went missing in the early Fifties died of illness, but some still can't be accounted for.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Yemenite Jewish children with their mother, ca. 1949-1950.
Yemenite Jewish children with their mother, ca. 1949-1950. Credit: David Eldan, GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The government is expected to approve the release of classified documents on the disappearance of the children of Yemenite immigrants in the late Forties and early Fifties during its weekly meeting on Sunday.

The documents, which formed the basis of a report into the disappearances by a state investigative commission in 2001, will be redacted to remove names and other personal details. Following the government's approval, they will be published on the website of the State Archive.

The expected release follows a public resurgence of interest in the case which has seen dozens of articles on the disappearances published in the media.

Between 1,500 and 5,000 children, mainly Yemenite toddlers, were reported missing between 1948 and 1954. Many parents reported being told that their children had died, but there have been consistent claims that at least some of the children were given to Ashkenazi couples for adoption.

The commission, which was chaired by Justice Ya'acov Kedmi, said in its report that it had not found any evidence confirming the organized or state-sponsored abduction of Yemenite children during the early years of the state.

Like the two inquiries that preceded it, the commission found that hundreds of children of Yemenite parents had died of illness. The fate of several dozen children is still unknown.

The documents that will be released are not expected to resolve the issue, but could put to rest the claims that the state has hidden the truth with regard to the disappearances.

The release of the documents was recommended by Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who was tasked by the prime minister with examining the sealed documents about five months ago. "There is no reason, justification or logical cause to prevent the public from viewing these materials," Hanegbi said last month.

Hanegbi said he had reviewed 3,900 cases, documented in thousands of pages. Though most of the materials are already known, they contain heart-wrenching stories, he said.

"It hurts, there are some very difficult materials there. We know the stories, but when you read them again it's blinding," he said, citing reports by nurses who said they saw families from Israel and abroad arrive at maternity wards to examine babies. "Afterwards, the babies just disappeared," he said.

In an interview with Haaretz over the summer, Hanegbi said that the documents he had seen did not contain any "smoking gun." “If there was, the investigating committee would have uncovered it,” he added.

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