Yemenite Children Affair
The Yemenite Children Affair (Hebrew: פרשת ילדי תימן) was the disappearance of hundreds of babies and toddlers of new immigrants to the newly founded state of Israel, mainly from Yemen, between the years 1948 to 1954. Most cases involved the parents being told in the hospital that their newborn children had died although they never received additional reliable information about their fates. The parents claim that their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to Ashkenazi families. In several cases, the children tracked down their parents many years later and conclusively determined their relationship to their Yemenite relations using DNA testing.
The State of Israel was created in 1948 and almost immediately began to receive refugees who included both several hundred thousand Holocaust survivors and Jews who had become refugees as a result of the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries, which resulted in about 700,000 new immigrants from the Muslim world. Consequently, the population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958. During this period, food, clothes, and furniture had to be rationed in what became known as the Austerity Period. Between 1948–1970, approximately 1,151,029 Jewish refugees relocated to Israel. Many arrived as penniless refugees and were housed in temporary camps known as ma'abarot; by 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities.
Difficulties in absorption were exacerbated by the fact that the refugees spoke a wide array of languages, and, in addition to suffering the trauma of the Holocaust, war, pogroms, and ethnic cleansing, came from a great variety of countries with widely varying customs. Many were not literate and were unaccustomed to the bureaucracy of a modern state. Resources were stretched thin as Israel struggled to cope with the massive influx, the need was so great that David Ben-Gurion felt obliged to fund the absorption effort by signing a reparations agreement with West Germany despite political repercussions from Jews angered at the idea that Israel could accept monetary compensation for the Holocaust.
Allegations of disappearances
Many of the complaints have common characteristics:
- Almost all the missing children were under the age of 3, they were the children of new immigrants who were less than a year in Israel and who arrived at the newly founded country in the immigration waves of those years (see also Operation Magic Carpet), and almost all were descendants of Mizrahi Jews—especially descendants of immigrants from Yemen.
- Almost all disappeared while in hospitals or when they were allegedly taken to hospitals.
- Almost all the parents received only a spoken explanation that their children had died. The spoken message was only given to the parents when they inquired about the cause of their children's disappearance and in most instances they were told of their child's sudden death only after the funeral (or the alleged funeral) was held in their absence. In addition, the death records were incomplete and many parents never received a death certificate stating the death of their children.
- Almost all the parents of the children who disappeared were given a recruitment order from the Israel Defense Forces at a time when their children were supposed to approach the age of recruitment.
The mystery surrounding the disappearance of these children has led to the claim that while many children were recorded as having died, in fact they were either kidnapped or were adopted by rich Ashkenazi Jews in Israel or abroad. The affair has been widely covered in the Israeli media through the decades, and so far four official investigating committees have been established to investigate the claims. The committees have investigated many hundreds of cases, and determined that the vast majority of children actually died and only in a minority cases they did not find enough evidence to determine what really happened.
The peak of the public outcry on the matter occurred in 1994 when Yemenite Rabbi Uzi Meshulam established an "armed sect" of radical Yemenite Jews in his garden, who barricaded themselves in his home and violently resisted Israeli law enforcement while demanding that the Israeli government establish a State Commission of Inquiry to examine the matter.
Since the 1960s the Yemenite children affair has repeatedly been the subject of public debate every few years. As a result, through the years three formal inquiry committees and one public inquiry committee were established to investigate the matter and to expose the truth on this issue.
The Bahlul-Minkowski Committee and the Public Committee
In 1967, the Bahlul-Minkowski Committee was established and it examined 342 cases of disappearances. The committee determined that in 316 of these cases the children died for certain, and that in two instances the children were adopted, while for the other cases the committee did not manage to reach a definite conclusion.
The committee, which was established by Ministers of Justice and the Police, worked with a public committee called "The public commission to Discover the Missing Yemenite Children" (ועדה ציבורית לגילוי ילדי תימן הנעדרים) which was established especially for this purpose. The public commission included psychologists, rabbis and heads of municipalities.
The public commission published its conclusions in 1986 and in part relied on the research of Dov Levitan of the Bar-Ilan University, who raised allegations of deficiencies of The Bahlul-Minkowski Committee. These claims included an alleged personal bias.
Following the public interest in the conclusions of the former commissions, the Israeli government led by Yitzhak Shamir established in 1988 a Clarifying Commission headed by Justice Moshe Shalgi. This committee received new evidence on 301 children, and determined that in 65 of these cases their fate was unknown. It determined that in all the other cases the children did die.
State Commission of Inquiry
In 1995, immediately after publication of the Shalgi Committee's conclusions, and following a public uproar, a State Commission of Inquiry was established. The committee examined more than 800 cases, and its conclusions were published in 2001: The committee did not manage to reach absolute conclusions in 56 of these cases. The committee determined with certainty however that in 733 cases the children actually died.
In June 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Tzachi Hanegbi to re-examine the evidence in the three previous inquiries. After the issue resurfaced, a Haaretz investigation found that dozens of Ashkenazi children vanished in a manner similar to the way the Yemenite children did.
- First government of Israel
- Austerity in Israel
- Ringworm affair
- The Kedmi Commission
- Orphans' Decree
- Tamara Traubman (November 1, 2001). "A mystery that defies solution". Haaretz.
- Greenberg, Joel (1997-09-02). "The Babies From Yemen: An Enduring Mystery". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
- Shulewitz, Malka Hillel (2001), The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, Continuum, ISBN 978-0-8264-4764-7
- Population, by Religion and Population Group, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2006, retrieved 7 August 2007
- Bard, Mitchell (2003). The Founding of the State of Israel. Greenhaven Press. p. 15.
- Hakohen, Devorah (2003), Immigrants in Turmoil: Mass Immigration to Israel and Its Repercussions in the 1950s and After, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 978-0-8156-2969-6; for ma'abarot population, see p. 269.
- Shindler 2002, pp. 49–50
- Sarah Helm (April 17, 1994). "Yemeni Jews describe their holocaust: Sarah Helm in Yehud reports on claims that Israelis stole 4,500 children from immigrants". The Independent. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- שלוש ועדות חקירה הוקמו ב-25 שנה [Three commissions were established in 25 years]. Haaretz (in Hebrew). November 4, 2001. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- Moshe Reinfeld (November 4, 2001). "State commission: Missing Yemenite babies not kidnapped". Haaretz. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
- Cook, Jonathan. "The shocking story of Israel's disappeared babies". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
- "A 70-year-old mystery: Yemeni Jews say young relatives were stolen in Israel" by Ruth Eglash, The Washington Post, August 8, 2016