Yemenite Boy Whose Bones Were Exhumed for Genetic Testing Was Not Kidnapped

The family of Yosef Melamed, who died in 1948, suspected that he was kidnapped and not buried under the tombstone bearing his name. The grave was opened at the request of the family and the examination of the remains revealed that he died of a disease – and not abducted

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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The opening of Yosef Melamed's grave in Givatayim, in July.
The opening of Yosef Melamed's grave in Givatayim, in July.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Health Ministry and the National Center for Forensic Medicine announced on Saturday that they identified a perfect match between the genetic profile of Yossef Melamed, whose family claim that he was abducted in the Yemenite Children Affair, and his other family members.

The test results also show that Melamed, whose body was exhumed following the family's request, died of a disease and was buried in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Givatayim – and not abducted.

Melamed died in 1948 and his body was exhumed last July, following recent legislation that permits exhumation of bodies of children related to the Yemenite Children Affair. His family requested to examine if the genetic profile of his remains matched their own, as they feared that Yosef had been abducted and another child had been buried in his place.

The National Center for Forensic Medicine laboratory generated a genetic profile for the exhumed remains. They then performed tests on the immediate family members and found a perfect match between the profiles. "The well-preserved remains of the deceased and the accessibility of immediate family members allowed us to continue the identification process and perform genetic comparison between the family members and the exhumed remains," the Health Ministry stated.

"This is an unprecedented case," the Ministry stressed. In 1997, other children's bodies related to the affair were exhumed, but the lab samples did not yield any clear DNA information. "We are taking part in a historical event that is part of this painful affair which has been haunting Israeli society for many years," said Meir Broder, a legal advisor working for the Health Ministry. "We have managed, for the first time, to come up with findings that can offer the family some closure in this long and painful affair," he added.

Yosef Melamed's parents, Shulamit and Shalom Melamed (originally Moalem) moved to then-Mandate Palestine from Yemen in 1943 and settled in Rehovot. Their son, Yosef, was born four years later. Shalom joined the Israel Defense Forces and died in the war of Independence in 1948.

In a testimony delivered to the Cohen-Kedmi committee, one of the government committees investigating the Yemenite Children Affair, the Melamed family said that when Yosef was one-year-old, he fell ill and was sent to the Hadassah hospital in Tel Aviv with his mother, who at some point had returned home to take care of her older daughter.

When Shulamit returned to the hospital, she was told that Yosef had died. One day later, she was taken to the Nahalat Yitzhak graveyard in Givatayim to see her son's grave. "I didn't believe they buried him. I said I had a feeling he wasn't dead," she said in a testimony she gave to the Amram association, an organization advocating for the families who say their children were taken from them.

The Yemenite Children Affair Information Center, set up by researchers looking into the affair, said that the fact the child died of an illness and was buried, and not abducted, is a well-known and documented fact. "We hope these findings will help his mother and family reach some closure," they added.

The "Yemenite Children Affair" refers to the disappearance of mostly Yemenite babies and toddlers, but also other Mizrahi and Balkan children, in Israel in the 1950s.

Similar to other Yemenite families who say their family members were abducted by the state – in order to adopt them out to Israeli families of European descent – the family of Yosef Melamed claimed that the one-year-old didn't die as the authorities had claimed at the time, but was rather abducted and possibly transferred to another family.

In Israel's nascent years, mainly from 1948 to 1954, over 1,000 babies and toddlers disappeared according to their families.

According to many accounts, the children disappeared either immediately after birth or after being hospitalized due to illness. Some of the families were told that their children had died, but they were not shown a body or received a death certificate, nor information on a burial.

All three panels came to similar conclusions: that most of the children died of illness and that there was no evidence of their institutionalized abduction. The state commission of inquiry found that 1,053 children, most of them babies, had disappeared; that the vast majority of them clearly had died of illnesses; that it was probable that 48 of them had died; and that the fate of 69 children was unknown.

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