The Yemenite Children affair has resurfaced once again in the public debate following the Achim Vekayamim organization’s stated intention to renew efforts to discover the truth behind one of the cases, which has caused a storm in Israel for decades.
The governmental investigative committee on the mysterious disappearance of Yemeni children classified documents and materials about the case that were classified in 2001. Achim Vekayamim, which comprises dozens of Yemenite family members who were either allegedly kidnapped (or parents of those allegedly kidnapped), announced its intention to petition the Supreme Court to provide access to these files.
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The Yemenite Children affair raised much suspicion in Israel after hundreds of babies and toddlers belonging to Yemenite immigrants to the newly founded state between 1948 and 1954 were said to be kidnapped and sold to Ashkenazi families. The parents were reportedly informed that their children had died in the hospital. However, some of the children later sought to track their biological families and discovered DNA matches. Suspicions were further vindicated when parents received military draft orders when their “deceased” children would have reached 18 years old—an indication that they were still, in fact, recorded as alive.
The case shifted back into public scrutiny when families began protesting the state’s decision to classify the material reviewed by the investigative committee for 70 years (until 2071), which was announced yesterday on Channel 2. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Saturday that she would again assess the material and make a decision thereafter.
Journalist Yael Tzadok, who began investigating the case in 1994, and who is also an activist for the victims, said that the state has been “hiding the kidnapping case for almost 60 years. (The affair) already began in the 1950s. We know about governmental letters which were passed between the Health Ministry and the police that were stamped ‘top secret.’ They knew this and hid it.”
“Also during the Knesset meetings in which the subject was raised, ” Tzadok continued, “and clearly from the minutes, it is clear that many public figures knew the children had disappeared, were kidnapped, and even sold. A catalogue with 20, 000 names of Yemenite children containing details about them also disappeared. The state needs to remove the classification orders from the documents and to finally tell the truth to the families who were victims of kidnappings and also to the entire public. They can’t lie to everyone forever.”
The activists contend that the state’s decision to classify the evidence, the documents, the inutes and the investigative material is without precedent. “Obviously it raises suspicion that we are talking about a more serious case than we can imagine, ” Tzadok said. “This is a committee that pretended that it was going to investigate and to expose the truth. Yet what was discovered was the systematic destruction of evidence and witnesses are afraid to talk about about the classification of the documents.”
The organization’s lawyer, Yael Neger, who is providing the activists with pro bono legal service, says that she has personal experience in the affair. “They also tried to kidnap my father. They forcefully took him from my grandmother’s hands, but this attempt did not succeed, ” explained Neger. She further threatened that if the state refused to declassify the relevant documentation, more than 100 families would petition the Supreme Court against the decision.