Yemenite Children Affair

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The Yemenite Children Affair Hebrew: פרשת ילדי תימןParshat Yeladei Teiman) refers to the disappearance of between 1500 and 5000[1] babies and toddlers of new immigrants to the newly founded state of Israel from 1948 to 1954. The majority of immigrants were from Yemen, with considerable numbers coming from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and the Balkans.[2] Hundreds of documented statements made over the years by the parents of these infants allege that their children were removed from them. No death certificates were issued, nor did parents receive any information from Israeli and Jewish organizations as to what had happened to their infants.[3]

Widespread accusations continue that the infants were given or sold to childless Holocaust survivors in a covert systematic operation.[4] Conclusions reached by three separate official commissions set up to investigate the issue unanimously found that the majority of the children were buried having died from diseases.[5] DNA paternity testing has been able to confirm that, in some cases, adopted children trying to track down their biological parents were born to Yemenite families who had been informed that their children had died.[6][7] Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, described the issue as ‘an open wound that continues to bleed’ for the many families not knowing what happened to the children who disappeared.[8]


The Yemenite community was well established in Ottoman and then British Mandate Palestine by the turn of the century. 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.[9] Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

Difficulties in absorption were exacerbated by the fact that the refugees spoke a wide array of languages, and, in addition to suffering the trauma of the Holocaust, war, pogroms, and ethnic cleansing, came from a great variety of countries with widely varying customs. Many were not literate and were unaccustomed to the bureaucracy of a modern state. Resources were stretched thin as Israel struggled to cope with the massive influx, the need was so great that David Ben-Gurion felt obliged to fund the absorption effort by signing a reparations agreement with West Germany despite political repercussions from Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.[13]


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 (see also Operation Magic Carpet), 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 received a recruitment order from the Israel Defense Forces at a time when their children were supposed to approach the age of recruitment.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of these children has led to the claim that while many children were recorded as having died, in fact they were either kidnapped or were adopted by rich Ashkenazi Jews in Israel or abroad. The affair has been widely covered in the Israeli media through the decades, and so far four official investigating committees have been established to investigate the claims. The committees have investigated many hundreds of cases, and determined that the vast majority of children actually died and only in a minority cases they did not find enough evidence to determine what really happened.

The peak of the public outcry on the matter occurred in 1994 when Yemenite Rabbi Uzi Meshulam established an "armed sect" of radical Yemenite Jews in his garden, who barricaded themselves in his home and violently resisted Israeli law enforcement while demanding that the Israeli government establish a State Commission of Inquiry to examine the matter.[14]

Inquiry committees[edit]

Since the 1960s, the Yemenite children affair has repeatedly been the subject of public debate every few years. As a result, through the years three formal inquiry committees and one public inquiry committee were established to investigate the matter and to expose the truth on this issue.

The Bahlul-Minkowski Committee and the Public Committee[edit]

In 1967, the Bahlul-Minkowski Committee was established[15] and it examined 342 cases of disappearances. The committee determined that in 316 of these cases the children died for certain, and that in two instances the children were adopted, while for the other cases the committee did not manage to reach a definite conclusion.

The committee, which was established by Ministers of Justice and the Police, worked with a public committee called "The public commission to Discover the Missing Yemenite Children" (ועדה ציבורית לגילוי ילדי תימן הנעדרים) which was established especially for this purpose. The public commission included psychologists, rabbis and heads of municipalities.

The public commission published its conclusions in 1986 and in part relied on the research of Dov Levitan of the Bar-Ilan University, who raised allegations of deficiencies of The Bahlul-Minkowski Committee. These claims included an alleged personal bias.[citation needed]

Shalgi committee[edit]

Following the public interest in the conclusions of the former commissions, the Israeli government led by Yitzhak Shamir established in 1988 a Clarifying Commission headed by Justice Moshe Shalgi.[15] This committee received new evidence on 301 children, and determined that in 65 of these cases their fate was unknown. It determined that in all the other cases the children did die.

Kedmi Commission[edit]

In 1995, immediately after publication of the Shalgi Committee's conclusions, and following a public uproar, the Kedmi Commission was established.[15] The committee examined more than 800 cases, and its conclusions were published in 2001: The committee did not manage to reach absolute conclusions in 56 of these cases. The committee determined with certainty however that in 733 cases the children actually died.[16]


In June 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Tzachi Hanegbi to re-examine the evidence in the three previous inquiries.[17] After the issue resurfaced, a Haaretz investigation found that dozens of Ashkenazi children vanished in a manner similar to the way the Yemenite children did.[18]

Government's conclusions[edit]

In June 2017, the government of Israel published its findings based on three independent investigations into the allegations of child abductions and their adoption into other families, one in 1967, another in 1988 and the last in 2001, and where all findings have concurred that no Yemenite immigrant child was clandestinely given-away to other families, but that some children died of diseases and were buried without their parents being informed. While the findings vindicate the State of Israel of being complicit in the abduction of Yemenite immigrant children, it still found the practice of some doctors who treated them to have been criminally negligent, especially in the way in which they conducted blood transfusions in some children (by injecting in their system Albumin [dry egg-white], serum, dry plasma, among other things), to check and see if they had traces of sickle-cell disease, as found in some Negroid races. Such practices brought about the untimely death of some children, who were previously robust and healthy.[19][20]

Undaunted, families of so-called "missing children" disbelieved the government's conclusion. On 23 January 2018, after staging a mass demonstration in Petach-Tikvah, Yemenite families of children believed to have been abducted were given permission by the State Attorney's Office to exhume 18 graves said to be those of their missing loved ones. Their hope is that, by exhuming their bodies for DNA testing, if the graves should prove to be empty or that the genetic findings do not match those of their siblings, it would give undisputed evidence of a cover-up in the disappearance of these children.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hundreds of Yemenite Children Were Abducted in State's Early Years, Says Israeli Cabinet Minister". Haaretz. 31 July 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  2. ^ "The shocking story of Israel's disappeared babies". Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  3. ^ "A Mystery That Defies Solution". Haaretz. 5 November 2001. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  4. ^ Ein-Gil, Ehud (9 June 2016). "Decades Later, Disappearance of 1,000 Children in Israel Remains a Mystery". Haaretz. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  5. ^ Ein-Gil, Ehud (9 June 2016). "Decades Later, Disappearance of 1,000 Children in Israel Remains a Mystery". Haaretz. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  6. ^ "When Israeli doctors allegedly tested Yemenites for 'Negro blood'". Times of Israel. Retrieved 25 June 2018. 
  7. ^ Greenberg, Joel. "The Babies From Yemen: An Enduring Mystery". NY Times. Retrieved 25 June 2018. 
  8. ^ "Hundreds of Yemenite Children Were Abducted in State's Early Years, Says Israeli Cabinet Minister". Haaretz. 31 July 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2018. 
  9. ^ Shulewitz, Malka Hillel (2001), The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, Continuum, ISBN 978-0-8264-4764-7 
  10. ^ Population, by Religion and Population Group, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2006, retrieved 7 August 2007 
  11. ^ Bard, Mitchell (2003). The Founding of the State of Israel. Greenhaven Press. p. 15. 
  12. ^ Hakohen, Devorah (2003), Immigrants in Turmoil: Mass Immigration to Israel and Its Repercussions in the 1950s and After, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 978-0-8156-2969-6 ; for ma'abarot population, see p. 269.
  13. ^ Shindler 2002, pp. 49–50
  14. ^ Sarah Helm (April 17, 1994). "Yemeni Jews describe their holocaust: Sarah Helm in Yehud reports on claims that Israelis stole 4,500 children from immigrants". The Independent. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  15. ^ a b c שלוש ועדות חקירה הוקמו ב-25 שנה [Three commissions were established in 25 years]. Haaretz (in Hebrew). November 4, 2001. Retrieved June 16, 2012. 
  16. ^ Moshe Reinfeld (November 4, 2001). "State commission: Missing Yemenite babies not kidnapped". Haaretz. Retrieved June 14, 2012. 
  17. ^ Cook, Jonathan. "The shocking story of Israel's disappeared babies". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ Altman, Yair (14 June 2017). "Experiments on the Yemenite Children Disclosed (Exclusive)". Israel ha-Yom (in Hebrew). pp. 2–3. 
  20. ^ BBC June 21, 2017
  21. ^ Yarketzi, Dana (23 January 2018). "The Yemenite Children's Affair: The State Attorney's Office Authorized the Opening of Children's Graves - and to Conduct Tests" (in Hebrew). Walla News. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 

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