Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday officially launched a database of hundreds of thousands of documents that will shed light on the fate of the children of Yemenite families who went missing in the early days of the state. Speaking at the official unveiling of the database that will allow the general public access to view documents discussing the mystery of the missing Yemenite children, Netanyahu said that “today we are righting a historic wrong. It is difficult to imagine that for 60 years no one knew what happened to these children. This is unacceptable in a modern, civilized country. As difficult as it will be to face the facts, we are not prepared to allow such a situation to continue.”
Speaking at the event as well, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that “the issue of the missing Yemenite children is an open wound for many families who are seeking to clear the fog about the fate of family members.” All families who have questions about the fate of their relatives will be able to browse the database, with the exception of files of children who were adopted, which will be accessible via court order.
The documents unveiled Wednesday were to have remained in a closed archive until 2070, but the Knesset decided to change that after numerous ongoing public protests by families demanding to know what happened to the children they were told had died, but whose bodies were never handed over for burial. The documents have been scanned and digitized, and information can be searched in them by numerous criteria, including name, the hospital a child or parent was admitted to, and the name of the family a child may have been released to other than their own. The documents were recently discovered in the state archives, and apparently contain explosive details on the alleged kidnapping of hundreds of children of immigrant families from Yemen, who were told by hospitals that their children had “died,” although their remains were never handed over.
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 children had been buried in mass graves and that it would be impossible to track down their children’s 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.
The opening of the database was the idea of Minister Tzachi Hanegbi. Speaking in advance of the database’s inauguration, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that the revelation of the documents was an important development, and that Israel encouraged everyone to access the information.
Speaking on Army Radio Wednesday morning, Hanegbi said that he did not believe that the cases of the missing children were part of any plot or conspiracy, “but the fact that so many children just disappeared does require investigation. It certainly was not by coincidence.”