The state must come clean about the fate of the Yemenite children

Between 1948 and 1952, thousands of Yemenite babies, children of immigrants to the newly-founded State of Israel were reportedly taken from their parents by Israel’s nascent medical establishment and disappeared. Now it is time for the state to come clean about what really happened.

By Tom Mehager

Yemenite children's affair.

In all our innocence we believed that if we bring forth testimonies from families on the ways their children were kidnapped, we could begin a process of social healing, collective truth telling, and in the far-off future, reconciliation. But the response of many Ashkenazi Israelis to the Day of Remembrance and Awareness for the Yemenite, Balkan and Mizrahi Children Affair was one of distortions and victimization. Thus, it is important to reiterate a number of basic facts.

The three separate investigative commissions were flooded with over one thousand testimonies by families whose children were taken from them. Those testimonies were most often consistent: medical personnel told the families that the child was sick, the child was taken from the family and after a number of days was reported dead. The families were neither handed a death certificate nor told where the child had been buried. Today hundreds of families are providing testimonies to Amram, an NGO dedicated to researching the disappearance and trafficking of Jewish children from Yemen, the Balkans and Arab countries, while hundreds of others took part in last week’s events across the country to mark the day of remembrance. Those who refuse to believe these testimonies should, by the same token, refuse to believe testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

Those who bother to read materials on the subject will discover that there are testimonies by members of the Israeli establishment that reinforce those of the families. Take, for instance, the testimony given by Ahuva Goldfarb, the national supervisor of the Jewish Agency’s social services, to the national commission of inquiry: “Children were sent unregistered outside of the [transit] camps, it was systematic as could be.” Goldfarb admits that the answer given to parents who asked about their child’s fate was “He is no longer alive.” Roja Kushinsky, a nurse at the Ein Shemer transit camp, recalls a similar pattern: “I would take two-three babies, then they would send me to Afula on an ambulance, I would be left with healthy babies. The next day I would do the same thing and ask about the babies from the day before. I was told they died. Died?! But they were healthy. They said they passed away. It’s not true. It’s not true. They were given up for adoption.”

Questions about the fate of these children must be directed at the state — it must carry the full burden of this issue. There are serious suspicions that these children were sold abroad for all kinds of purposes. Eido Minkovsky, whose grandfather Reuven headed the Minkovsky-Bahlul Committee, which looked into allegations of kidnappings, responded to these testimonies on his personal Facebook page: “The Minkovsky-Bahlul Committee discovered the earth-rattling truth on the disappeared Yemenite children. They discovered over 300 dead!! For some reason that is not mentioned today when we know where they are, signed and marked.”

Yemenite children's affair.

Minkowsky isn’t speaking the truth. Because state representatives took the children from their parents, and the medical establishment claimed the children had died, the state must be responsible to show the families exactly where they are buried. As long as there are no graves with the children’s names, and no DNA test to match the deceased to their families, we cannot establish that the children died and were buried in Israel. Until today, the state has not opened any graves of its own initiative in order to prove that the children had died and were buried. Therefore we can establish that the State of Israel has never actually given these families a proper response about the fate of their children. Moreover, we’re not talking about a few hundreds, but thousands. According to the Kedmi Committee, the number is somewhere between 1,500-5,000 children who disappeared — and this is only between 1948-1954.

These things seem obvious. From the beginning we did not doubt the reliability of the families, and claimed that the state is responsible for providing them with an answer. But the daniel and manipulation create an opposite effect. Instead of coming together and moving toward reconciliation, the last week only deepened the animosity between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. One thing must be clear: we will keep going. Until the establishment fully recognizes the crimes committed against the families.

Tom Mehager is an activist with Amram. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.

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