State Attorney to allow exhumation of immigrant Yemenite children’s graves

The affair of the missing immigrant Yemenite children relates to the disappearance of hundreds of babies and toddlers of Mizrahi descent, mainly from Yemen, during Israel's early days.

January 24, 2018 07:45
2 minute read.
State Attorney to allow exhumation of immigrant Yemenite children’s graves

JEWISH AGENCY representatives meet Yemenite immigrants arriving at Lod Airport in 1949. (Wikimedia Commons). (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The State Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday that it has given authorization for the graves of Yemenite children who died after immigrating to Israel in the late 1940s and early 1950s to be opened for genetic testing.

Families and organizations believe that the children had not died but were abducted and then illegally adopted by other Israeli citizens and have sought to conduct tests on the remains in the designated graves to ascertain whether or not they truly are from those children.

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“This decision was taken out of consideration for the public importance of investigating the truth regarding the death and burial of minors from Yemen, the east, and the Balkans, [where] notice of their deaths was given to their families in the years after the establishment of the state,” the State Attorney’s Office told the Petah Tikva Family Court.

The families who petitioned the court are requesting that a total of 18 graves be opened for the purposes of the genetic tests to establish whether or not those buried there were indeed from the Yemenite community.

The affair of the missing Yemenite children relates to the disappearance of hundreds of babies and toddlers of Mizrahi descent, mainly from Yemen, during the early days after the establishment of the state, between 1948 and 1954.

Three state investigations have found that no children were abducted and illegally adopted, but that there was negligence, disregard for the families whose children had died, and a patronizing, dismissive attitude to them by the authorities at the time.

Over the years, however, families have claimed that their children were, in fact, systematically kidnapped and given away or sold off to Ashkenazi families without the consent of the biological families.

To this end, a recent release of classified documents pertaining to the affair demonstrated extremely disturbing findings, showing that medical tests had been performed on Yemenite children, some of which led to the deaths of otherwise healthy children.

Some of these children were also autopsied without parental consent.
The Yemenite Affair )Gal Matana Dahari/Bar-Ilan University)

Others believe that the children had, in fact, died and were not abducted, basing this on the high mortality rate in general of 40% to 50% among Yemenite children during that time and the additional dangers that came with the arduous journey they undertook through the mountains and deserts of Yemen to the transit camp in Aden from where they were flown to Israel. The chaotic conditions in the transit camps, the lack of respect shown to the new immigrants, the fact that many of the deaths were not properly registered and that the Yemenites did not speak Hebrew are all factors that could have contributing to the lack of proper accounting for the dead children.

The forum of families that petitioned the Petah Tikva court to open the graves welcomed the decision and said that it hoped the process would be done transparently and with the cooperation of the families.

However, it said that the decision was only “a partial and limited step” and insufficient in arriving at the truth.

“We demand that the government of Israel take responsibility in the name of the State of Israel for the abduction of the children and commit to practical steps to reveal the truth of this terrifying affair,” it said. “Only taking full responsibility and revealing the truth in its entirety will bring healing for the families and Israeli society in general.”

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