So Many Missing Answers to So Many Missing Children

Tzachi Hanegbi claims there is no 'smoking gun' in the documents of inquiry into the Yemenite children who disappeared so long ago. But that leaves us with as many questions as answers.

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

Minister Without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi has already managed to retract some of the sensational statements he made on Channel Two’s “Meet the Press” program last week, in which he said that hundreds of Yemenite and Mizrahi children were knowingly stolen from their parents and given up for adoption.

But in both the television interview and an interview he gave to Ofer Aderet of Haaretz this week, he noted that he had not found any evidence of an official conspiracy to kidnap the children and pass them on – or even sell them – to Ashkenazi families for adoption.

Hanegbi said it is possible that no such evidence exists, even in the confidential documents of the official state commission of inquiry into the matter. He is the minister responsible for examining the documents and releasing them to the public.

“I have no idea if it was an order from above or not, and if it was given whether it was given by the establishment or not,” Hanegbi told Haaretz. “In the material that I am reading there is no ‘smoking gun.’”

He said he had not found any evidence of the involvement of the ruling party in those years, Mapai, or of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Hanegbi said that those who claim such involvement are influenced by “conspiracy theories.”

When asked whether it would be possible to identify those responsible for the affair from the confidential material, he said: “I don’t think it will be possible to know at all.”

Is that really true? Hanegbi should go back to the findings of the commission of inquiry itself, as detailed in the commission’s final report: Hundreds of babies were taken from their parents to children’s houses, and when they became sick they were transferred to hospitals; dozens of those who recovered were not returned to their parents because of “identification problems” and were transferred to nurseries, mostly of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, without any real attempt being made to locate the parents.

From the nurseries, they were given up for adoption.

The commission of inquiry determined that the hundreds of babies who died were buried without their parents being informed and without their being allowed to identify the body, participate in the funeral and say Kaddish.

It is clear from this description who had ministerial responsibility for the criminal negligence exposed by the commission of inquiry: The minister of health (responsible for the hospitals), the welfare minister (responsible for the crèches and adoptions), the minister of interior (responsible for registration of births, deaths and adoptions) and the religious affairs minister (responsible for the burial services).

In the years examined by the commission of inquiry, from the founding of Israel in 1948 through the end of 1954, these were the ministers who held the relevant portfolios: Haim-Moshe Shapira (Hapoel Mizrahi and National Religious Party), health minister, interior minister, immigration minister, welfare minister and religious affairs minister; Yitzhak-Meir Levin (Agudat Yisrael), welfare minister; Yehuda Leib Maimon (Hamizrahi and National Religious Party), religious affairs minister; and Yosef Burg (National Religious Party), health minister.

Only in 1953 and 1954, when Agudat Yisrael was in the opposition, were the health and interior ministries held by representatives of a non-religious party: Yosef Serlin and Israel Rokach of the General Zionists party. All these ministers – Haredim, national religious and non-religious – represented political movements that are partners in the present government coalition.

To this list of ministers responsible, it is possible to add other names: the director generals of their ministries, the directors of the immigrant and refugee camps, the hospital directors, burial service heads – and it is possible to go down a few more rungs on the ladder of responsibility.

The official state inquiry did not name those responsible in its report. Is there a list of the various officials and their names in its documents? And of those who were still alive during the commission’s work, were they invited to testify? And those who were invited to testify, did all of them appear?

How many of them testified behind closed doors and what did they say? How many of them refused to testify?

These are just some of the questions to which answers may well be found in the archived documents of the official commission of inquiry.