MK: Looting of Yemenite Jews’ Property ‘State-Sponsored Organized Crime’

Jewish Yemenite immigrants seen arriving at Ben Gurion Airport. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Knesset on Tuesday will discuss allegations that the state literally stole large amounts of money, jewelry, tashmishei kedushah, and other valuable items from Yemenite Jews who were brought to Israel in the early days of the state.

On Sunday, Yisrael Hayom published documents drawn from state archives that substantiate at least some of the charges, said Likud MK Nurit Koren.

Documents include manifests of passengers on at least two ships – the Lucha and the Luke – that transported Yemenite refugees to Israel in 1949. The manifests list the names of passengers and property they were bringing aboard. The property was brought to Israel and placed in the custody of the Jewish Agency – which, the report says, never returned it to its rightful owners.

Other documents discuss efforts by Yemenite families to retrieve their property, including one written in September 1950 by Dr. Chaim Zadok, head of absorption in the Jewish Agency, which said that “time and again we have immigrants from Yemen coming to demand their property, saying it was stolen, but they are unable to say where and when it was stolen.” Much of the property, he writes, was collected while the immigrants were still in Yemen and stored in warehouses there, provided by the immigrants “based on the promise that nothing would be damaged or lost, and they would get their property back when they reached Israel.”

In another document, Zadok wrote that immigrants who were granted access to a Jewish Agency warehouse in Yafo actually found boxes and bags they had packed, but were opened and pilfered. On a visit to the warehouse, he wrote, “I was told that workers opened boxes and took out sefarim that belong to the immigrants. These books are rare and valuable, and the names of their owners are often inscribed on them. The books are placed into special storage units and removed from the site. I am not sure that it is justified to take the books that belong to these people.” Zadok added that he believed an official government inquiry was in order.

In another document, then-Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett wrote on July 9, 1950, of a ship that arrived in Eilat with 300 sifrei Torah and other ancient scrolls and books. In a letter to the Religious Affairs Ministry, he wrote that the Ministry was the best organization to handle the shipment. “It is clear that these sifrei Torah are ancient and they require special treatment to preserve them,” the letter said.

Channel 20 broadcast interviews with families of immigrants, who related various stories about how they were separated from their property. In one account, an immigrant who was a child at the time recalls how he and his family were transported by plane to Israel. “They told us that anyone who had gold or silver should give it up before they got on the plane, because gold and silver could cause the plane to crash. They told us we would get it back in Israel, but we got nothing.”

MK Nurit Koren, who heads a special Knesset subcommittee on the kidnapping of children of Yemenite families in the early days of the state, will lead the hearing on Tuesday. In a statement, her office said that “it was apparently not enough for the state to steal the children of Yemenite families, but now it emerges that it stole their property, too. Sifrei Torah, sefarim, gold and silver tashmishei kedushah, and other very valuable items hundreds of years old were taken and distributed to state institutions and then sold to merchants or individuals, based on the claim that they had no owners or their owners could not be identified. The naïve Yemenites gave up their gold and silver because they were told by officials of the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee that the plane would crash because of the weight of their treasure, and they believed they would get it back. This is nothing less than state-sponsored organized crime.”

In its official response, the Jewish Agency said the issue was “very painful, and it is important that we uncover the truth. We have cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully with the Knesset subcommittee. We have provided them with all the relevant data and will continue to do so in the future as required.”

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