The Yemenite Children Atrocity and its Denial

Yemenite immigrants (Image credit: Brauner Teddy/Government Press Office of Israel)

Jewish families were forever torn asunder. Jewish lives were treated as valueless. Jewish bodies were the objects of medical experiments. Then when it was all over came the denial, which continues to this day.

These atrocities, now known as the Yemenite, Mizrahi, and Balkan children affair, are the most vile blight on modern Israel’s history. According to official estimates, 1,500 to 5,000 young children (and that figure is just for 1948-1954), most of them Yemenite Jews, were stolen from their families and sold for adoption like chattel, or else carved open for surgical practice and medical experimentation as was recently exposed and detailed in a June 14 Israel Hayom article. Incomprehensibly, these atrocities were a massive operation involving official Israeli institutions, constituting the worst of treacheries by Jews against fellow Jews.

And yet even now, as the official documents that were slated to remain sealed away until 2070 are finally seeing daylight, there are those in Israel who deny the abundance of facts, in a manner bearing striking similarity to the most ardent of Holocaust deniers. This is despite the fact that the state is finally starting to properly investigate itself and direct evidence is readily available.

Some of the deniers are now unabashedly coming forward in public, and by doing so display scorn for the families demanding to know the fate of their children. Arutz Sheva ran an interview with “independent investigator” and Yemenite children affair denier extraordinaire Avi Zelinger as the main article on its website on July 18. Two days earlier an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post voiced the same incredulousness in downplaying the evidence, and called “to lower the flames, bridle the rhetoric,” and avoid “baseless hatred” against the government that oversaw the systematic abductions and killings of thousands. In late June, history lecturer at Bar Ilan University Dr. Dov Levitan, writing in Maariv, similarly denied the affair outright, repeating the denial he previously aired in December 2016 when he said “no Yemenite child was kidnapped.”

Swimming Against the Tide

Ironically, this denial comes at a juncture in time when details are finally being divulged about the case. Levitan’s shrill denials last December came the same month when the state declassified 400,000 documents and created an online database of them, exposing parts of the truth that were meant to remain under wraps in the archives for the next 53 years. The database reveals detailed official documents on nearly 2,000 children who disappeared, and notes that 307 organizational bodies were involved in the affair. Evidence would seem to indicate that these involved organizations included hospitals throughout the country, officials of the leftist Mapai party forerunner to the modern-day Labor party, WIZO, HaShomer HaTzair, the Kibbutz movement, and the Chevrah Kadisha Jewish burial society.

With more data from the archives yet to be released, a special Knesset committee is working to ensure that all of the truth comes out. On July 16, a bill introduced by Likud MK Nurit Koren, who chairs the committee, was approved, allowing for graves to be exhumed and DNA testing to be conducted as part of the investigation.

Outside of the Knesset there is popular activity to ensure justice. The NGO Amram has collected testimony from over 700 families; based on these documents, the lowest estimate is that 1 in 8 Yemenite children born in the early years of the state were abducted. This is a very conservative estimate; the group says a more accurate figure is 1 in 7 or even 1 in 6, as many families are hesitant to come forward and reopen old wounds in public. DNA testing has proven the genetic link of many children who were abducted to families who were told that they had died. Adoption documents lacked any signature from their parents.

Amram organized a massive protest in the center of Jerusalem on June 20 in which several thousand people blocked King George St. in the heart of the city. In an appalling indictment of the press and political elite, the protest – despite bringing a central traffic artery of the capital to a standstill for several hours – received relatively subdued media coverage, and Nurit Koren was the only representative of the Knesset present.

The protest roughly coincided with the release of a documentary report on the affair by Channel 2 investigative reporter Rina Matsliah (which can be viewed in Hebrew here). In it she interviewed, among many others, an anthropologist who tracked down Jewish families in the U.S. who acknowledged that they had paid $5,000 to adopt Yemenite children who, unbeknownst to them at the time, had been abducted from their parents under the watch of the Israeli state apparatus. She also spoke with a surgeon who estimated that every Yemenite child who died or was killed would have been autopsied by surgeons in training, as medical practice.

Something Rotten in the State

The affair implicates many officials holding the highest ranks in the state, with more likely to be unmasked. One whose role has been exposed was Yigal Alon, who briefly served as interim Prime Minister of Israel in 1969. In the early years of the state, at a time when he was a senior figure in the Mapai party and commander of the Palmach commando force, Alon brought an abducted Yemenite child from a hospital to a friend living in a kibbutz “as a birthday present.” Alon took the child, Tziona Heiman, from a hospital in Jerusalem without “knowing who her biological parents were,” as Alon’s wife Ruth later admitted.

Other officials involved in the affair have acknowledged the abductions. In her testimony to a governmental committee, National Supervisor of Social Services for the Jewish Agency Ahuva Goldfarb admitted: “Children were sent without registration outside of the camps [for new immigrants], it was extremely systematic.” She added that parents inquiring what had happened to their child were told “he is no longer among the living.”

Likewise, Avigdor Pe’er, who served as Deputy Director of the Department for Immigrant Affairs in the Welfare Ministry in the 1950s, testified before a Knesset committee in 1985 that Jews from abroad, primarily from America, came to the Welfare Ministry and other institutions to find children to adopt. “They did not adopt according to the law, but they took them,” he recalled, acknowledging widespread illegal adoption overseen by the state.

A Personal Story

Even without waiting for the government to reveal its dark past, the truth should be readily apparent. In much the same way that most Ashkenazi Jews have some personal connection to the Holocaust through their family, most Yemenite Jews in Israel have a story of some family member who mysteriously died and whose body the family was never allowed to see.

As a case in point, I have close personal ties with a Yemenite family that has experienced three abduction cases - two thwarted and one, sadly, successful. In two cases, eerie similarities emerge: the family was told by the infant ward of the hospital a few days after the birth of their healthy newborns that the child had suddenly died, and that they could not see the body. Only when the family repeatedly insisted and began to threaten to start damaging hospital property did the officials suddenly change their tune, and “miraculously” produced the children healthy and whole to be reclaimed by their families.

The other case did not end as well.

An 18-year-old generally healthy son with a light disability in one arm was taken from the yard of his house by a hospital representative who promised to cure his arm. Only one family member was in the house at the time to witness his abduction. The family searched for him frantically at all the hospitals to no avail for a week. Then, by sheer chance, a neighbor who worked at the morgue identified his body and took them to see him. He was dead, killed possibly through medical experiments, after being taken to be “cured.”

This personal testimony is the tip of the iceberg as the newly opened government archives and testimony gathered by Amram conclusively show. The scale of this operation was massive enough that thousands of children disappeared.

As Eisenhower Would Say…

The Yemenite children affair is one of the darkest chapters in the history of modern Israel. It was an atrocity committed through deception, which targeted defenseless children and newly-arrived disoriented families that barely spoke the language. In the course of the affair, children were stolen and sold as merchandise, or else used as human guinea pigs.

The Jews involved in this scandal carried out their deeds as part of a war on the faith and culture of the religious and truly Zionist Mizrahi Jews from Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, and elsewhere. The culture of these same Mizrahi Jews, belittled by many of their secular Ashkenazi counterparts as “primitive,” produced Torah luminaries and families with a firm faith capable of withstanding a millennium of frequently cruel Arab rule.

The fact that there are now Jews stepping forward to deny the overwhelming evidence adds national insult to national injury, and it can only be hoped that the government will follow through on recent efforts and officially recognize the wrong that was committed and set the record straight.

To quote the profound prediction attributed to the famous American General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the end of the Holocaust: “Get it all on record now… because somewhere down the track of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.”

On the history of these self-imposed Jewish atrocities, there are those saying it never happened. Thankfully the records are finally starting to be opened and become public knowledge, and the denials will keep the truth at bay no longer.

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...הָרִימִי בַכֹּחַ קוֹלֵךְ מְבַשֶּׂרֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם הָרִימִי אַל תִּירָאִי אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה הִנֵּה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם! (ישעיה  מ:ט)

...Raise your voice with strength, herald of Jerusalem; raise it, do not be afraid; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your G-d!"

(Isaiah 40:9)

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© 2017 by The Jerusalem Herald, a division of Yashar Communications