Knesset Green Lights Release of Documents in Yemenite Children Affair

Yemenite children recite a tefillah during a conference in memory of late Yemenite Rabbi Yihya Yitzhak Halevi, in Petach Tikvah, in June. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

Decades of official secrecy over the missing Yemenite children from the 1950s came closer to being lifted Tuesday as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee unanimously approved the release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The documents pertain to hundreds of cases of babies and toddlers of families of Mizrachi descent, mostly from Yemen, who mysteriously disappeared from 1948 to 1954.

Although the parents were usually notified that their newborn baby had died, in the absence of death certificates and the presence of other irregularities, suspicion arose that the children were in fact kidnapped and given away or sold to Ashkenazi families.

Last month, the cabinet voided an earlier state panel’s ruling to seal the documents until 2071, following a recommendation by Minister-Without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, who had been appointed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to look into the matter.

MK Uri Maklev (R) and Minister-Without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi (C).

The declassified materials will be published on the State Archives website, with the exception of information about adoption, which could reveal the identity of the adopted children, the adoptive parents or the biological parents, in adherence with adoption laws.

MK Nurit Koren (Likud), who heads the Knesset Lobby on Yemenite Children, welcomed the move, but added that she will work for the establishment of a special committee to examine all the materials next week.

“I’m meeting with parents who tell me that they want to know that their sons or daughters are still alive, and that the important thing for them is that their children will know they looked for them their whole lives,” she said.

Koren is also leading an effort to try to reunite families that were split in the affair by offering free DNA testing to people in Israel and abroad, both to those whose children disappeared and to those who were adopted and are interested in discovering their biological origins.

Acting Committee Chairman MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) hailed it as a “defining moment” and expressed hope that it will be a decisive step toward reaching the truth. He said it was important to advance the issue of DNA tests, “which can help reveal things that the protocols cannot.”