New Law Would Allow Disinterment of Yemenite Children

YERUSHALAYIM -
View of the classified documents related to the Yemenite Children Affair, at the Israel State Archives offices in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A law that will allow the state to open the graves of children of Yemenite immigrants is on its way to passage by the Knesset, after it was approved on its first reading by the Knesset. The law applies to children of families who immigrated to Israel from Yemen, the Balkans, or Arab countries, whose families do not have information about the whereabouts of their children.

The law will allow those families to request that specific graves be opened if there is a suspicion that they may contain the remains of a child whose fate is unknown. Authorities will open the graves and a DNA sample will be taken to ascertain the identity of those remains.

The bill is being sponsored by MK Nurit Koren, who has been very active on the issue of the missing Yemenite children. “Knesset committees that have investigated the matter in the past have come to the conclusion that most of the missing children died,” Koren said in a codicil to the bill. “In several instances, families have narrowed down what they believe to be burial places of their loved ones, even though they had not seen the remains or been present at the funeral. This law will help them ascertain the truth.”

A previous bill allowed the disinterment of 69 specific graves in order to determine if they were empty. The new bill will authorize the taking of DNA samples and testing them to identify the remains. 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 — 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 in 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.