Israel to Declassify Documents on Disappearance of Yemenite Children

Families of disappeared toddlers will be able read online thousands of papers from 2001 state commission of inquiry.

Yemenite Jewish children at a transit camp in Aden await transferred to Israel, December 1949.
David Eldan/GPO

The cabinet decided Sunday to declassify thousands of documents that formed the basis of a high-profile 2001 report into the disappearance of Yemenite children during the early years of the state.

The Knesset must also approve the decision. After that, the State Archives will post all the documents on its website.

The state commission of inquiry that issued the report had said the documents should to be made public only decades later.

“The families whose children disappeared, as well as the general public, deserve to know what the inquiry commission found,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting. Now, he added, they’ll be able to see “all this material on the internet with their own eyes.”

Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, who spent the past few months reviewing the thousands of classified documents, had recommended that the cabinet declassify them, saying this would enable the public “to get as close as possible to understanding the truth.” Yet the documents’ disclosure isn’t actually expected to close the matter of what happened to the missing children.

The children in question all disappeared after being taken to the hospital. Some of their families have long charged that there was an institutionalized policy of taking Yemenite children from their parents and giving them up for adoption. But the inquiry commission said it found no evidence of this. It concluded that hundreds of the children had died, while the fate of dozens of others remains unknown.

“Today’s decision won’t make the pain, distress and suffering of thousands of immigrants – brothers, sisters and families – disappear,” Hanegbi said Sunday. “For decades, these families have lived with the feeling that their children vanished.”

Nevertheless, he continued, declassifying the documents would at least allow the public to see “the full extent of this difficult, sad and troubling picture.” He said it would also “put an end to the families’ suspicions, doubts and distrust of state agencies.”

The cabinet’s decision also represents an admission that the original decision to classify the documents was wrong, Hanegbi noted. “My review and that of our professional staff found no discussion of this issue, no explanation that explains why someone thought this was so necessary,” he said.

That statement could also have implications for other documents in the State Archives that were classified without any review of whether their classification was necessary or justified.