After decades of silence, Israel has moved to bring some closure to the hundreds of parents whose children went missing under mysterious circumstances. Some argue the database on the so-called “Yemenite Children Affair” has only been partially declassified.
The 210,000 pages of declassified documents come as a result of three probes into the mysterious disappearances, which date back to the 1950s.
More than 1,000 families – mostly from the Middle East and North Africa, but also from Balkan countries – had since reported their infants being systematically taken from Israeli hospitals, and put up for adoption. The claims never stood up, and the latest effort to investigate the Yemenite Children Affair in 2001 concluded that the children had either died or been buried with the hospital authorities failing to notify the parents.
What is Yemenite Children Affair program?
The Yemenite Children Affair (Hebrew: פרשת ילדי תימן) was the disappearance of hundreds of babies and toddlers of new immigrants to the newly founded state of Israel, mainly from Yemen, between the years 1948 to 1954.
Most cases involved the parents being told in the hospital that their newborn children had died although they never received additional reliable information about their fates.
The parents claim that their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to Ashkenazi families. In several cases, the children tracked down their parents many years later and conclusively determined their relationship to their Yemenite relations using DNA testing.
What is the purpose of Yemenite Children Affair program?
The State of Israel was created in 1948 and almost immediately began to receive refugees who included both several hundred thousand Holocaust survivors and Jews who had become refugees as a result of the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries, which resulted in about 700,000 new immigrants from the Muslim world.
Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. During this period, food, clothes, and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the Austerity Period. Between 1948–1970, approximately 1,151,029 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. Many arrived as penniless refugees and were housed in temporary camps known as ma’abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities.
Resources were stretched thin as Israel struggled to cope with the massive influx, they were either kidnapped or were adopted by rich Ashkenazi Jews in Israel or abroad to lessen the burden back home as well as making sure they are properly raised to be citizen of Israel.
The controversies and the allegations
Many of the complaints have common characteristics:
- Almost all the missing children were under the age of 3, they were the children of new immigrants who were less than a year in Israel and who arrived at the newly founded country in the immigration waves of those years and almost all were descendants of Mizrahi Jews—especially descendants of immigrants from Yemen.
- Almost all disappeared while in hospitals or when they were allegedly taken to hospitals.
- Almost all the parents received only a spoken explanation that their children had died. The spoken message was only given to the parents when they inquired about the cause of their children’s disappearance and in most instances they were told of their child’s sudden death only after the funeral (or the alleged funeral) was held in their absence. In addition, the death records were incomplete and many parents never received a death certificate stating the death of their children.
- Almost all the parents of the children who disappeared were given a recruitment order from the Israel Defense Forces at a time when their children were supposed to approach the age of recruitment.
What will happen next?
“There is nothing new here, opening the protocols to the public is mockery. It’s in order to keep covering up the affair. Instead of opening the adoption files, they are throwing a bone at us in the form of protocols that will not really get us closer to the truth.” – Yaakov Ben Aba
“There is nothing new here,” said Yaakov Ben Aba from Rehovot, who lost five siblings between 1944 and 1953, and who believes they were kidnapped. “Opening the protocols to the public is mockery. It’s in order to keep covering up the affair. Instead of opening the adoption files, they are throwing a bone at us in the form of protocols that will not really get us closer to the truth.”
Several people interviewed pointed to inaccurate dates or details of their relatives’ illnesses and presumed deaths, even contradicting the state-released death certificates, while some suggested the “unreadable handwriting” of protocols was re-interpreted and even “beautified” for the release.
Speaking of their deep mistrust for the state, several relatives vowed to continue trying to find out if their siblings were actually alive, in hopes of meeting them.