Law to Open Kevarim of Yemenite Children Edges Closer to Legislation

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 families to have the kevarim of their loved ones opened in order to ascertain their identity, and to verify whether the person they believe to be interred in a kever is indeed buried there, was approved for its second and third Knesset reading Monday. The law was approved by a special Knesset committee on the issue of the fate of the children of Yemenite immigrants whom many parents believe may still be alive, despite being told that their children had died.

Under the law, families will be able to request that the Health Ministry approve their request for the opening of a kever, in order to take a sample of DNA from the person interred there. The family members will also be given a DNA test in order to determine if there is a match. According to the bill, a doctor must be present at the disinterment.

The law will apply to family members whose children had been taken to the hospital in the past for the treatment of various diseases and then died in the hospital without their remains being released to the family for burial. The law will apply mostly to families who immigrated from Yemen in the early days of the state, but will also apply to families from other Middle Eastern countries, as well as from Iran and several European countries, including the Balkan countries and Romania, all of whom have reported experiencing similar experiences.

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.

MK Nurit Koren (Likud), who sponsored the bill and is chairperson of the committee, said that “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 the burial place 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.”

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 1,060 cases, with as many as 3,430 files said to exist – were either given over for adoption 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.

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