Over 2,000 Israeli Yemenite Jews and supporting activists gathered in Jerusalem last Wednesday to mark an annual day of awareness for what families say was a state-sponsored program to abduct Yemenite Jewish infants and other Israeli children born to parents who were recent immigrants from Arab countries.
Known as the Yemenite Children Affair, in the first decade after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there was a systematic kidnapping of newborn Yemenite children, carried out by Israeli hospitals and government institutions. Mothers, who often were in Israel for a short time and did not speak Hebrew, would enter hospitals or other state facilities to give birth. Once the child was born medical staff told the parents the child died unexpectedly. Yet none of the families were shown bodies or burial documents. Many of the families did not practice any mourning ceremonies because they believed their missing children were still alive.
The babies who went missing, parents claim, were given away to childless Ashkenazi families (Jews of European descent–the dominant ethnic group in Israel at the time), leaving the Yemenite families with no answers regarding their children’s fate. In most cases, the families were told the children died unexpectedly.
There have been a few national state committees tasked with investigating the matter over the decades, but they were previously accused of ignoring real evidence and helping government efforts to cover up the affair. Following recent pressure by the third generation of Jewish Yemenite activists, part of the national archives and state protocols were disclosed to the public.
Last year Benjamin Netanyahu had more than 3,500 government files on the investigation into the disappearance of the children published online. A Knesset committee followed up by confirming earlier this month that Yemenite babies died during the 1950s after state medical institutions conducted experiments on them. Despite the disclosures, the families are still in the dark regarding their relatives, and the matter is still an open wound in the Israeli society.
Seeking more answers, the Israeli nonprofit Amram organized the protest in Jerusalem last week under the title “Recognition, Justice, Healing,” calling on the government to open all of the national archives, which could allow for family reunification. The demonstrators also want the affair recognized as a crime against humanity.
This was the largest protest on the topic in the history of Israel to date.