If the issue of the missing Yemenite Jewish children did not involve an ethnic as well as a criminal angle, it would have been resolved a long time ago. But who will dare admit that many Jewish children were abducted from their parents by other Jews, in a phenomenon with racist overtones, right after the Holocaust? Thus, the story is buried deep underground, evidence is destroyed and the public is lied to for over 60 years.
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There were abductions of Yemenite Jewish children, and these were deliberate and systematic. One can learn about them first of all from the testimonies of the parents. Anyone disbelieving them should examine the filters through which they allow reality to permeate their consciousness. I immediately believed these parents when I first interviewed them in 1994 on Israel Radio. Their testimonies were clear and incisive, unless you believe that Yemenite Jews are chronic fantasizers. That would dovetail with statements such as “we established this state and you should be grateful that we’ve brought you here,” which I’ve been hearing lately.
When a woman gives birth to a healthy baby who is shown to her, and right after that a doctor comes in and tells her that since she “pressed too hard” the baby was stillborn, one doesn’t need a high school diploma to realize that the baby was kidnapped. When 40 babies are sent together from the Atlit transit camp to Jerusalem for “immunization” and they never return, any reasonable person understands that what happened was not “immunization.” If three Yiddish speakers arrive at the baby dorms at the Ein Shemer camp in the evening hours, after most staff members and mothers have gone, and collect babies from their cribs before disappearing forever, even a Yemenite speaker can understand that something is rotten.
There are many more such testimonies. One can add to these reports by Knesset members in the 1950s and 1960s, telling of sales of children for money and a “black market for children.” There are also the words of Justice Shneur Zalman Cheshin in that period, describing fictitious adoption papers that were granted by wily ruses. One realizes that this was a covert and comprehensive scheme.
It’s not as far-fetched as it may sound today. It’s hard to convey the depth of racism toward immigrants from Yemen felt by leaders of the Jewish community, among them, David Ben-Gurion himself, as well as various administrators who dealt directly with immigration and absorption of newcomers. Horrified caregivers and nurses reported that Yemenites don’t feed their children unless there are leftovers after the adults finish eating; that they give them coffee (their coffee was made from the caffeine-free husks of coffee beans, laced with cinnamon and ginger, but nurses heard ‘coffee’ and passed out); that Yemenites don’t really care if they have one child more or two less. Thus you get “moral legitimization” for transferring babies from “unfit” parents to those who are fit, as if people who considered themselves gods were handling babies as if they were playing Lego. The media were overall sympathetic to the establishment, gleefully disseminating the same racist message, as if the state’s leaders, doctors, nurses and heads of the medical establishment all sprang out of the same ideological womb, with a common heart beating in all of them. The media thereby legitimized the removal of these children from their parents.
One could of course argue that all the committees set up to examine the issue determined that none of this really happened. Let’s ignore the first two, in 1967 and 1988, irrelevant committees that had no authority, and focus on the state commission of inquiry. Never has there been a commission of inquiry in Israel which has gone to such great lengths to pursue a clear objective of not finding anything. Paradoxically and woefully, it revealed numerous findings that pointed to systematic and deliberate abductions. However, the commission made great efforts to ignore these findings, submitting an embarrassing and shameful report in 2001, limping along with excuses and meanderings only for the purpose of absolving the state from any responsibility for the affair, while avoiding greatly shaming it.
Behind the scenes of this commission there was an apparatus meant to conceal evidence, one which would do honor to any totalitarian state: Archives were destroyed, documents were falsified, witnesses reported that they had been threatened and important testimonies were heard behind closed doors. Aside from a handful of journalists, such as Ehud Ein-Gil from Haaretz and Kalman Liebskind from Makor Rishon, no one bothered reading the commission’s report, let alone examining its veracity.
Thus, the families were thrice betrayed: Once by the powerful, violent and arrogant establishment of the 1950s, then, by the courts and finally, by the media. Three power hubs, which in a democracy are supposed to sustain a system of checks and balances, instead embraced each other in a hug, unparalleled in the annals of the state, and which only Yemenite immigrants who had “arrived from the Middle Ages” could have generated. Human rights groups and enlightened fighters for the liberty and welfare of Palestinians, foreign workers, and virtually anything that moves joined in the arrogance of power brokers, suffering from a blind spot that has persisted for over 60 years.
This affair is not a “Yemenite Jews affair” but a black stain on the blue and white flag. It reflects collective guilt and a comprehensive and ongoing moral failure.
This is what needs to be done now: Expose the entire truth, analyze it, understand it, mourn it and cry out over it. Ultimately, forgiveness may follow. This will be painful. The kidnapping affair dismantles the Zionist story we like telling ourselves, of the miraculous State of Israel, moral and gracious. The continued whitewashing of the affair shatters everything we believe we are today.
The writer is a journalist and a member of Achim Vekayamim, a forum for families of kidnapped children.