Israel to release classified documents on Yemenite Children Affair

In 2001, the state commission decided to seal numerous documents until 2071 regarding the disappearance of Mizrahi-descended children in the 1950s.

Yemenite immigrants gather for a photo at Rosh Ha’ayin, in the early years of the state. (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: GPO FLICKR)
Yemenite immigrants gather for a photo at Rosh Ha’ayin, in the early years of the state.
The cabinet on Sunday unanimously decided to release classified documents concerning children who went missing in the 1950s Yemenite Children Affair.
During the early days after the establishment of the state, from 1948 to 1954, hundreds of babies and toddlers of families of Mizrahi descent, mostly from Yemen, mysteriously disappeared.
In the vast majority of cases, parents were told in the hospital that their newborn baby had died, though they never received any official confirmation.
Over the years, families have claimed that their children were in fact kidnapped and given away or sold off to Ashkenazi families.
Over the past few decades, the government established a number of commissions to investigate the matter and expose the truth, though all had failed to do so, concluding that the majority of children had in fact died in the hospital.
However, in 2001, the state commission of inquiry into the affair decided to seal numerous documents until 2071, a move that was overturned Sunday following efforts by families, NGOs and MKs to declassify the documents.
The secrecy surrounding the documents raised suspicions about the motives behind it, leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Minister-without- Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi to determine whether the government should open the sealed files. Following several months of collaboration with the State Archives and Justice Ministry, Hanegbi on Sunday decided the documents must be opened to the public.
“Today’s decision will not eliminate the pain and suffering that thousands of immigrants have endured,” he said. “Brothers, sisters and families live with the feeling of their children gone for many decades. But this decision is important in two respects. First of all, to really allow family members and their authorized representatives, and in fact the public, to go online and see the difficult, oppressive and gloomy picture in its fullness and get as close as possible to understanding the truth.”
He said his probe into the matter did not discover why the documents were placed under such strict confidentiality for so many years.
“The families whose children went missing and the wider public deserve to know what the commissions of inquiry found,” Netanyahu said.
MK Nava Boker (Likud), whose own brother and sister went missing in the affair, demanded that the government take responsibility and expose what happened to the missing children.
“It is time to heal the wound that has been bleeding for decades and to bring relief to those unfortunate families who to this day do not know where their loved ones are,” she said. She described the affair as one of the most difficult in the country’s history and expressed hope that discovery of the truth will lead to justice and healing for Israeli society.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) hailed the decision as an act of “historical justice.” During the cabinet meeting she requested that those born during the relevant years be encouraged to undergo DNA tests subsidized by the government to aid the reunification of families.
The cabinet decision will be passed on to the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee for final approval.