State Agrees to DNA Testing for Remains of 17 Yemenite Children

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

The state has given its consent to opening the alleged kevarim of 17 children, children of Yemenite immigrants whom the state said died. Forensic experts will examine the remains of the individual buried in each kever and take DNA samples, which will then be matched up with the DNA of family members. In this way, the claims of family members who say that they do not believe their loved ones are buried in those kevarim – or that they died at the time and in the manner that the state said they did – will be proven or disproven.

The agreement comes in the wake of a lawsuit by families of children who were immigrant children of new Israelis from Yemen, Iran, and Arab and Balkan countries. The state has long claimed that the children died from various diseases, and were buried – but family members claim that they never saw the remains of their loved ones.

A law that would allow the opening of kevarim on demand is working its way through the Knesset. 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 place of their loved ones, even though they had not seen the remains or had been present at the funeral. This law will help them ascertain the truth.”

In December 2016, the state opened secret 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 1060 cases, with as many as 3,430 files said to exist – the children were either farmed out to Ashkenazi 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 mass graves 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.