Israel releases documents on disappearance of 1,000 Yemenite children


On Wednesday for the first time, the Israeli State Archive released 210,000 documents pertaining to the disappearance of 1,053 children in the early years of the state.

While the documents will help some families and individuals who were children during those years, to track down their loved ones, they have not supplied a clear answer to the question which has been nagging away at many - was there an organised programme to take young children away from poor immigrant families and put them up for adoption?

The case of the "lost Yemenite children" has remained a mystery at the heart of the story of Israel’s foundation for decades. Families who had arrived from Yemen and a number of other Arab countries claimed that their babies or sick children had been spirited away, while their parents were told they had died.

The question marks intensified in the late 1960s when the parents began receiving call-up papers to IDF service for their children who were supposed to have died in infancy. While the government is still of the opinion that the majority of the children who were born in immigrant camps set up in the first years of Israel's independence, did indeed die, there are many who remain unaccounted for. Employees of hospitals and immigrant camps have testified that there were cases in which the children were taken for adoption.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi who was appointed by the government to oversee the opening of the archives said in a conference call with journalists on Wednesday that he hoped that it would "enable some families to achieve closure".

He said that he did not believe there had been an organised political effort by the establishment to steal children, but “the fact is that 1,000 children disappeared. It raises a lot of question marks". The documents indeed leave many questions unanswered.

Not only was there a pattern of disappearances in the 1950s which cannot be explained away just by the lack of scrutiny and muddle that existed in the early days of the state, there was almost certainly a cover-up as well.

Three state commissions over the decades discounted the families' claims and the archives were originally to remain sealed until 2070. The documents in the State Archive are mainly hospital records, reports filed by social workers and complaints made by families at the time. None indicate whether it was part of wider plan. They will allow families to begin carrying out DNA testing, but the government has yet to establish procedures for exhuming graves where the families were told their children had been buried.

The families are now calling for a new commission to establish whether the kidnapping of children was systematic, and if so, who in David Ben Gurion's government knew about it.

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