The controversial case of the thousand Yemeni Jewish children disappeared in Israel

Children stolen by dictatorships from opposing parents, children who disappear when they are on vacation with their parents, children who are never heard from again when they were playing quietly in the street…

The childish It is a particularly vulnerable sector of the population and too often the protagonist of this type of situation, although they are normally cases with a dropper that usually affect one child at a time.

Now, what happens when a situation occurs in which there is hundreds of disappearances at once? Something like this happened, presumably, during Operation wings of eaglesto which we dedicated an article the day before yesterday.

Let us remember that said operation consisted of a great airlift organized between 1948 and 1954 by the newborn state of Israel to rescue Jews living in Yemen -although huge flows were later added from other Arab countries- and they were being victims of the hostility of the local people.

In this context, a huge flood of exiles began an exodus from those countries to their promised land, adding an impressive number of seven hundred thousand immigrants.

The process acquired such dimensions that the newcomers, often impoverished either because they were humble peasants or because their goods had been looted from the start – and many, moreover, survivors of the Shoah who had left Europe – had to be housed in the ma’abarotthat is to say, refugee camps whose main characteristic was that they had prefabricated houses instead of the classic tents; they were temporary complexes, as their own name indicated (singular ma’bara, transit) and the last one was closed in 1963.

A twelve-year-old Yemeni mother in the Eden refugee camp/Image: Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, all this forced a difficult logistics coordination, aggravated because a large part of those displaced did not speak Hebrew but only their respective native languages ​​and were also illiterate; adding the fact that the persecutions suffered had traumatized them to the point of creating a instinctive distrust of authoritythe situation to manage records and other bureaucratic tasks -provide them with food, clothing, water…- was quite complicated.

It was not easy for Israel to face that challenge that was added to the difficulties of a country that was taking its first steps and on top of that facing a war against all its neighbors, so they had to tighten their belts in what is known as tzena either austerity periodwhich lasted from 1949 to 1959.

The measures adopted served to move forward and guarantee the maintenance of the population, which with the refugees would go from eight hundred thousand inhabitants to more than two million in a decade. This type of context -shortage, rationing and so on- tends to generate a black market and to combat it it was necessary to create a dense bureaucratic network which, due to its dimensions, ended up causing some confusion, logical on the other hand, given the chaotic situation that suddenly occurred.

The most serious case was not discovered until four decades later, in 1994, when a Yemeni-born rabbi named uzi meshulam demanded that the Israeli government form a commission to investigate the disappearance of an unknown number of children in those years.

Meshulam (who passed away in 2013) was the leader of a group called Yehudei Teman (Yemeni Jews). Jews from that country were Mizrahi (Orientals), like all those who came from the Middle East and North Africa, and differed from Ashkenazis, Sephardim and other groups in that they had not undergone a process of assimilation, retaining different religious rites and customs; that is why they had to go through a re-education process when they arrived in Israel.

Initially, what attracted the most attention was the expeditious way in which the rabbi raised the issue, barricading himself in the garden of his house with a handful of armed followers who confronted the forces of order. But then the underlying issue it ended up being imposed, given the seriousness of the claims.

As reported, even 1,033 children of families from Yemen had disappeared from the ma’abarot between 1949 and 1951. Almost all were under three years of age, had not been in the country for even twelve months, and were in hospitals when they were no longer heard from.

Yemeni families waiting to board in Eden/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

The parents were orally informed that they had died by sudden death but they never saw the bodies or received death certificates, coinciding with the fact that most of the cases occurred at the same time that the parents were absent doing their military service. .

Mistrust spread like wildfire and they began to emerge gossipthat if the children were in good health, that if there were English and French-speaking people in the hospitals… gradually forming the belief that the children had been falsely declared dead in order to kidnap them and give them up for adoption to wealthy Ashkenazi families, either from Israel or elsewhere.

The truth is that the Parasha y’ladai Teiman (Case of the Yemeni children), the name with which the matter was baptized, had already been spread by word of mouth since the 1960s and had even been officially investigated through the so-called Bahlul-Minkowski Committeeorganized by the Ministry of Justice and Police, which in collaboration with the created Public Commission to Discover the Disappeared Yemeni Children (made up of mayors, rabbis and psychologists) examined three hundred forty two of these disappearances, determining that the vast majority -316- had been real deaths, identifying two adoptions and remaining without explanation the rest.

The work took a long time and the results were made public in 1986, although they received criticism for their methodology from Bar-Ilan University (Tel Aviv).

Two years later, the government of Yitzhak Shamir itself established a new commission headed by Judge moshe shhalgi which focused on three hundred and one cases and discovered that sixty-five of them lacked an explanation, although it showed that the others had ended in death.

The question remained uncertain and hence the virulent reaction of Uzi Meshulam in 1994, which had such media coverage that it managed to wrest from the executive a State Commission of Investigation the next year. This time the scope of action was much more extensive, with more than eight hundred cases. The results, obtained thanks to DNA analysis and published in 2001, followed the previous proportional line: 733 children actually died and 56 remained unspecified.

Therefore, the rumors of a state conspiracy were definitively ruled out, since the fate of nine hundred and seventy-two of the thousand thirty-three little ones. Likewise, others who were alive were located and it was considered that the remaining fifty-six could have been illegally delivered or sold for adoption but as an individual decision of some of the social workers involvednot following an official policy.

Recently, in 2016, he turned on the subject by naming Yitzhak Tzachi Hanegbi (former Justice Minister and security expert) to review the evidence collected by the three investigative commissions.

The result was surprising to find that dozens of Ashkenazi children they had also disappeared, with the novelty that there were cases not only in Israeli hospitals (actually pre-Israeli, since they were pre-independence) but also in detention camps in Cyprus, where the British held Jews from Eastern Europe. This one who had fled the continent after surviving the holocaust. Will a new research front be opened?


Israeli Media and the Framing of Internal Conflict. The Yemenite Babies Affair (Shosana Madmoni-Gerber)/The Chosen Body. The Politics Of The Body In Israeli Society (Meira Weiss)/Commodifying Bodies (Nancy Scheper-Hughe and Loic Wacquant)/The Melting Pot in Israel. The Commission of Inquiry Concerning the Education of Immigrant Children During the Early Years of the State (Zvi Zameret)/Wikipedia