MKs Discuss Telling All on ‘Yemenite Children Scandal’

Moshe Dahari (2nd R), one of 19 Jews from Yemen, who were brought to Israel by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, in what immigration officials described as the last covert operation to move members of a dwindling Jewish community dating back two millennia, can be seen at an absorption center in Beersheba, Israel March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Some of the 19 Jews from Yemen who were brought to Israel on March 21. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

The Knesset Constitution and Law Committee on Tuesday was holding a special session dedicated to the question of whether government protocols on the fate of children from families from Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries should be unveiled. The session was being held in response to demands by MKs from a range of parties, from Meretz to Jewish Home.

The scandal of the missing Yemenite children goes back to the early days of the state. In hundreds and even thousands of documented cases, Yemenite women who had given birth in state hospitals were told that their children had died in childbirth. The bodies were never recovered, however, leading many people to suspect that their babies had not died but had been kidnapped.

The purpose of the alleged kidnapping has been the subject of many conspiracy theories, from supplying wealthy Israelis of European background who could not have their own children with babies to raise from birth, to allegations that the children were used as subjects in radiation experiments conducted by Israel at the behest of the U.S. government. Some parents claimed that they attempted to disinter the remains of their children to have them reburied at family plots, but were either told that the location of the graves had been “lost,” or that their child had been buried in mass graves and that it would be impossible to track down their remains.

Governments throughout the years have either ignored or denied the allegations, claiming that the children died because of polio and other childhood diseases rife during the 1950s. At least four investigative committees have discussed the matter, but all ended their work without drawing specific conclusions.

Activists believe that there is a great deal of information in government files that would shed light on the matter and on the fate of specific missing children, but so far the government has refused to release the information. Constitution Committee head MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home) said at the meeting that regardless of the demands of MKs, the State Archivist cannot release the protocols without legislation requiring it, and he promised to design legislation that would allow this to happen.

According to State Archivist Dr. Yaakov Lezovik, there are more than a million pages of government documents relating to the Yemenite children scandal.

In a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, MK Nurit Koren (Likud) called on the government to come clean on the matter. “We are morally bound to recognize the basic rights of these families to get information about the fate of their loved ones, and to do what we can to repair the terrible evil that was done to families even at this late date,” she wrote. “I appeal to you with all my might to personally intervene in this matter. This is a matter of national and social importance, and the time has come to repair it. Revealing the documents will help many families get to the truth and allow them to come to terms with the pain of their losses, solving finally the mystery of what happened to their children.”