Kevarim of Missing Yemenite Children Could Be Opened for Examination

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

The Knesset has passed on its first reading a law that would allow for the disinterment of children of the Yemenite community in order to determine their true identities. The law, proposed by MK Nurit Koren, was approved by a vote of 34 in favor, with none opposed.

The bill’s objective, said Koren, was to arrive at the truth behind the stories of kidnappings and medical experiments that members of the Yemenite community have long charged the state with being involved in in its early days. In some cases, members of the community claimed that the graves that their children were said to occupy were empty, with the hospitals their children allegedly died in either giving them over for adoption by families in Israel or abroad, or using them in various medical experiments and then disposing of their remains.

The law will cover at least 69 graves of children that the committee on the missing children that Koren heads were unable to find any information on.

The state last December opened secret state protocols on cases of missing Yemenite children, with testimonies before various Knesset committees on hundreds of children who went missing in the early days of the state. Some of those testimonies contain lurid descriptions of medical experiments and forced kidnappings.

According to various conspiracy theories over the years, the missing Yemenite children – an exact number has never been determined, but previous investigations have uncovered at least 1,060 cases, with as many as 3,430 files said to exist – the children were either farmed out to Ashkenazic families who could not have their own children, experimented on at hospitals, or even shipped to the United States for use as subjects in tests that measured the effects of radiation.

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. 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 a mass grave and that it would be impossible to track down their child’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.

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