Yemenite Children Affair
The Yemenite Children Affair (Hebrew: פרשת ילדי תימן, romanized: Parshat Yaldei Teiman) refers to the disappearance of between 1,500 and 5,000 babies and toddlers of new immigrants to the newly founded state of Israel from 1948 to 1954. The majority of immigrants arriving in Israel during this period were from Yemen, with considerable numbers coming from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and the Balkans. According to low estimates, one in eight children of Yemenite families disappeared. Hundreds of documented statements made over the years by the parents of these infants allege that their children were removed from them. There have been allegations that no death certificates were issued, and that parents did not receive any information from Israeli and Jewish organizations as to what had happened to their infants. However, Yaakov Lozoowick, Chief Archivist at the Israel State Archives, have documented records showing that while the fate of a small fraction of the "missing" children cannot be traced, in the overwhelming majority of cases the children died in hospital, were buried, and the families notified, although these illnesses, deaths, and family notifications were handled with enormous insensitivity. In Lozowick's opinion, "There was no crime, but there was a sin."
Widespread accusations continue that the infants were given or sold to childless Holocaust survivors in a covert systematic operation. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. Meshulam's efforts led to the creation of the Kedmi Commission the following year. The third commission of its kind, it set out to reinvestigate the disappearances.
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
In 1967, the Bahlul-Minkowski Committee was established. After examining 342 cases of disappearances, the committee determined that in 316 of these cases it was confirmed that the children had died, and that in 2 instances the children were adopted; the other 24 cases were inconclusive.
The Israeli government led by Yitzhak Shamir established a commission headed by Justice Moshe Shalgi which lasted four years. 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. The report was met with dissatisfaction by some Knesset members with David Mena saying, 'The report doesn't reflect the real picture of the Yemenite children's disappearance.' Knesset member and chair of the interior committee, Dov Shilanski, who had overseen testimony given said, ‘I personally believe, in contradiction to the Shalgi report, that there were more than a few cases of kidnapping of Yemenite babies.’
In 1995, immediately after publication of the Shalgi Committee's conclusions, and following a public uproar, the Kedmi Commission was established. Also known as the Cohen-Kedmi Commission, it was created in order to examine more than 1,000 cases of missing children.
In 2001, the commission published its conclusions. It found that in the state’s first 6 years, although as many as 5,000 children may have disappeared, there was no basis to the claim that the establishment abducted babies. Hundreds of thousands of documents relevant to testimonies and evidence were placed under lock for 70 years and will not be available to the public until 2071. The committee examined more than 800 cases, and did not manage to reach absolute conclusions in 56 of these cases. The committee determined that in 750 cases the children actually died. The commission said that about 50 children were unaccounted for.
In June 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Tzachi Hanegbi, a government minister, to re-examine the evidence in the three previous inquiries. Netanyahu said it would "right an historic wrong", and marked a new era of transparency. The government opened up nearly all of the archives of the inquiries putting them online.
Disturbing revelations followed in a special Knesset committee about medical experiments that had been carried out on the Yemenite children. Prior testimony given under oath during the previous inquiries revealed that many children had died as a consequence of medical negligence. Further testimony revealed that four undernourished babies died after being administered an experimental protein injection. Violating Jewish tradition, post-mortem examinations were carried out on children who were then buried in mass graves. Children's hearts were removed in some cases and given to US doctors researching the near absence of heart disease found in Yemen.
In 2016 after having re-examined evidence given to a commission of inquiry in the late 1990s, Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV: "They took the children and gave them away. I don't know where." The minister admitted that at least "hundreds" of children were taken without their parent’s consent, marking the first time such a public admission had been made by a government official.
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.
- "Hundreds of Yemenite Children Were Abducted in State's Early Years, Says Israeli Cabinet Minister". Haaretz. July 31, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
- Fezehai, Malin (February 20, 2019). "The Disappeared Children of Israel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
- Cook, Jonathan. "The shocking story of Israel's disappeared babies". Al Jazeera. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
- "The Affair - The Yemenite, Eastern and Balkan Children Affair". The Yemenite, Eastern and Balkan Children Affair (in Hebrew). Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- "A Mystery That Defies Solution". Haaretz. November 5, 2001. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
- Lozowick, Yaakov (March 14, 2019). "The Myth of the Kidnapped Yemenite Children, and the Sin It Conceals Immigration to the modern Jewish state has often been chaotic at best. But the insistence that nefarious motives guided its placement work with refugees is unsupported by archival evidence". Tablet. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
- Ein-Gil, Ehud (June 9, 2016). "Decades Later, Disappearance of 1,000 Children in Israel Remains a Mystery". Haaretz. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
- "When Israeli doctors allegedly tested Yemenites for 'Negro blood'". Times of Israel. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- Greenberg, Joel. "The Babies From Yemen: An Enduring Mystery". NY Times. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- Shulewitz, Malka Hillel (2001), The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, Continuum, ISBN 978-0-8264-4764-7
- Population, by Religion and Population Group, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2006, retrieved August 7, 2007
- Bard, Mitchell (2003). The Founding of the State of Israel. Greenhaven Press. p. 15.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Green light to open Yemenite Jewish graves for genetic tests". Israel National News. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- שלוש ועדות חקירה הוקמו ב-25 שנה [Three commissions were established in 25 years]. Haaretz (in Hebrew). November 4, 2001. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- "The tragedy of the Yemenite aliyah: 70 years later, the fate of thousands of missing children is unknown | News Israel today". News Israel Today (defunct). August 17, 2016. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Madmoni-Gerber (2009). stampata Biblioteca personale La mia cronologia Libri su Google Play Israeli Media and the Framing of Internal Conflict: The Yemenite Babies Affair. Springer. pp. 99–100. ISBN 9780230623217. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Moshe Reinfeld (November 4, 2001). "State commission: Missing Yemenite babies not kidnapped". Haaretz. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
- Knell, Yolande (June 21, 2017). "The Affair of the Missing Israeli Babies". BBC News. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
- Aderet, Ofer (August 12, 2016). "Dozens of Ashkenazi Babies Mysteriously Disappeared During Israel's Early Years". Haaretz. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
- Yarketzi, Dana (January 23, 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 January 23, 2018.