Immigrants from Yemen in a tent encampment in 1949..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week’s declassification of some 400,000 sealed documents from several state commissions of inquiry into the so-called Missing Yemenite Children Affair is welcome, but still inconclusive. While much of the newly disclosed data indicates that many of the missing children were unaccounted for due to gross negligence, and not state-sponsored kidnappings, the hundreds of thousands of files still conceal some of the conspiracies involved.
Amram, an Israeli organization dedicated to uncovering the truth of the affair, said last week it welcomed the declassification of documents, but noted that many details remained under wraps.
“This is an important step, but we must remember that the [investigative] commissions sought to dismiss state responsibility for the kidnappings and avoided [properly] looking into the matter,” the group said. “The information found or not found in official archives is not a requirement for recognition of this crime.”
Three state commissions of inquiry all cited the relative “chaos” of the period in question – the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s – when the nascent state was nearly overwhelmed by the mass immigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Muslim countries.
Among these masses were some 50,000 Yemenite Jews who arrived during the first year and a half of Israel’s independence. Many were in poor health and some sick infants were taken to hospitals for treatment and died.
Under the pressures of the time, the name tags of an untold number were misplaced and these children were buried in unmarked graves, lost to their parents.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the 400,000 documents relate to some 3,500 case files, documenting 1,226 death certificates and 923 burial records. Because so many children disappeared, rumors spread over the years that they had been kidnapped and given for adoption as part of a government conspiracy.
But while the new evidence discounts a government conspiracy, even if “only” a few hundred babies were stolen and placed in adoption, this was by definition a conspiracy.
Many hospitals were involved in the practice, which depended on the collusion of their maternity wards’ entire staff: The nurses knew, the doctors knew, and so did the adoption agencies that placed the stolen babies.
In a famous case that made headlines in 1997, Tzila Levine of Sacramento, California, was reunited with her Yemenite biological mother after searching for two decades led to DNA confirmation. A Haifa doctor had taken Levine from her mother shortly after her birth in 1949 and handed her to adoptive parents using forged papers. The adoption was approved by future Supreme Court president Moshe Landau.
‘It is inconceivable that Jews hurt other Jews so terribly,” Zvi Amiri told the Post regarding how he discovered at the age of 29 that his birth mother, a Tunisian immigrant, had been told in 1948 that he had died at birth, and that his kibbutz parents had adopted him. While the practice has often been referred to as the theft of Yemenite babies, Amiri related that other immigrant groups were involved: “There are five other guys who study with me at my yeshiva who have similar stories, and only one of them is Yemenite.”
It is undeniable that many parents of so-called missing children were kept in the dark due to the prejudices of the Ashkenazi-dominated medical establishment of the time.
Some of the declassified documents testify to the existence of widespread discrimination and patronizing attitudes of Western officials toward their Eastern brethren.
Despite the declassification of hundreds of thousands of documents, not all the materials from the state commissions of inquiry will be published on the State Archives website. Left missing is information about adoptions, which could reveal the identity of adopted children who want to know who their birth parents are and end decades of uncertainty. Medical information will continue to be withheld under secrecy regulations imposed until 2070, by which time the lives of most of those affected will have ended.
The government cloak of silence regarding the hospitals, doctors and adoption agencies that colluded in the disappearance of more than a thousand children will remain in place. The commission’s concluding in 2001 that there was no evidence of conspiracy defies both logic and common sense. The fact that materials relating to its findings are still concealed is nothing less than a blatant statement that the government has something to hide.
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