Israel’s Darkest Secret: The Yemenite Children Affair

Stolen babies. Hundreds, at least. ‘They took the children and gave them away. I don’t know where.’ A recent acknowledgement by Israeli minister Tzachi Hanegbi supports the decades-long accusation that thousands of children were systematically kidnapped from Israel’s hospitals in the 1950s.

700,000 Mizrahim Jews flown to Israel in secret US/UK procedures in 1949-1950

(Photo: Wiki Commons)

The families of children who mysteriously vanished during Israel’s first decade have been seeking justice from the establishment for years, claiming that the hospitals took their babies without sufficient explanation and sold or gave them away to wealthy Jewish families of European descent. The families say they were told that their babies or toddlers had died in hospital, without sufficient explanation or formal death procedures.

The claims, which are also reinforced by historians and academics who have dedicated years to the subject of the ‘Yemenite Children Affair’, could finally lead towards a more honest admission by the Israeli government.

The 2001 Kedmi inquiry, set up to examine such cases, concluded that up to 5,000 children may have disappeared between 1948 and 1954 alone.

Whilst a shocking figure, the Kedmi inquiry was considered a false front by the families, especially since it only explored 1000 of the potential 5000 cases involved. Then, the inquiry went on to archive hundreds of thousands of documents as secret, not to be made public until 2071. These documents include witness testimonies and related evidence. The Yemenite families involved, as well as some Israeli government ministers, are now calling for the state to declassify these documents.

A Pattern of Disappearances

Over the years, this issue has continued to arise, refusing to be dismissed as false or conspiracy, likely due to the fact that there is such overwhelming evidence coupled with families’ profound desire for the truth.

Well documented by the media, a vast majority of the missing children’s cases bear suspicious similarities:

  • Age: the majority of the children were under 3, the children of new immigrants who had arrived in Israel less than a year before the children went missing
  • Circumstances: the disappearances occurred in hospitals or when the children were taken to hospital.
  • Descent: a large majority of the children were from Yemen, with some from other Arab countries such as Iraq, Tunisia and Morocco
  • Lack of formal procedure: Nearly all of the parents were given informal, spoken explanations about the ‘deaths’ of their children and only after they asked where their children were. Incredibly, in most cases, the parents were notified of their child’s ‘unexpected passing’  following the alleged funerals, which were held in the absence of the families.
  • Strange behaviour from hospital staff: Parents were not allowed to see the bodies of their supposedly dead children and were not given the location of their burials.
  • Incomplete/no death records: Parents never received any kind of death certificate for their children or if they did, the certificates were incomplete.
  • Further clues: The IDF sent letters to the parents of the missing children, around the time of recruitment age, requesting they sign up to the army. This would not have hapened had the children really been declared ‘deceased’ on the national registry of births and deaths.

A Nation Built on Profound Prejudice

Between 1948 and 1958 – the Israeli establishment’s ‘genesis’ years – hundreds of thousands of refugees poured into the newly-formed state of Israel. These refugees included holocaust survivors from Europe (Ashkenazim Jews) and 700,000 exiled Jewish immigrants from Arab and Muslim countries, known as Mizrahims. The population of Israel swelled from 800,000 to 2 million in the first decade.

The Jews arriving from Arab countries were politically and socially stigmatised from the beginning, by deep and wide-reaching racism from the ‘superior’ European Jews. The very first prime minister of Israel, Ben Gurion, set the standard by openly stating that the Mizrahim immigrants were a ‘generation of the desert’, ‘rabble’ without ‘a trace of Jewish or human education’. Jews hating Jews: elitism, not religious difference.


Ben Gurion, Israel's first PM: Arab Jews were 'a generation of the desert'

Ben Gurion, Israel’s first PM: Arab Jews were ‘a generation of the desert’

Since the state’s first decade, those at the top of the Israeli government toiled relentlessly to ‘de-Arabise’ Jews arriving in Israel, according to historian Ilan Pappe. Prime minister Gurion went on to say: ‘We do not want the Israelis to become Arabs. It is incumbent upon us to struggle against the spirit of the Levant, which corrupts individuals and societies.’

Mizrahi Jews enlisted in the Israeli army at the time were considered either mentally retarded or primitive, an absurd debate by the Israeli establishment, and one which recently came to light with the uncovering of documents discussing whether the soldiers in question were a lost cause or could be civilised to Ashkenazim-Jew standards.

‘The dominant view then was that, by placing the children with Ashkenazi families, they could be saved – unlike their parents. They would be re-educated and made into suitable material for the new Zionist state,’ said Yael Tzadok, an investigative journalist who has worked on the Yemenite Children Affair for 20 years.

At the turn of the 21st century, the Kedmi inquiry questioned medical staff in some of the hospitals accused of abducting babies, uncovering further evidence of the ‘forcible transference’ of children: acts classifiable under the UN definition of genocide.

The statements uncovered a sinister perspective. Sonia Milshtein, a former senior nurse, testified that Yemenite parents ‘were not interested in their children’ and that they should have been happy that their ‘child got a good education’.

The Head Administrator of a charity for children’s care homes – Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO) – told her head nurse at the care home Sarah Pearl that parents never visited because they ‘have lots of kids, and lots of problems, so they don’t want their children’. This was one of the same care homes from where young children were said to have gone missing.

‘The hospital staff and officials probably didn’t think they were doing something wrong. They thought it was their patriotic duty,’ Tzadok said.

Ironically, this widely-accepted mentality of Arab Jews being somehow ‘inferior’ infected Israeli society from the top down. Sadly, it demonstrates an explicit and utter transference of the horrific prejudice the Ashkenazim Jews themselves faced for decades in Nazi Europe and had only recently escaped. An interesting psychology: rather than developing empathy, the bullied becomes the bully.


Children could be saved and de-Arabised but the parents were considered lost causes. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Tzadok’s findings support the idea that deep prejudices among European Jews against the Mizrahim made the kidnappings less stigmatised in practice. ‘The evidence from that time… clearly shows government officials, judges, lawmakers and hospital staff speaking openly about the fact that the children were being abducted’, said Tzadok.

Undeniable Evidence

In addition to research and witness testimonies, the most important and incriminating developments in the ‘Yemenite Children Affair’ are the abductees themselves.

Once hidden, snatched from their parents, their identities deleted, their lives and true heritage swept under the carpet by a twisted and corrupt system, many of the missing children have since grown up and located their birth parents, proving conclusively through DNA testing links to their Mizrahim parents.

For almost 4 decades, Gil Grunbaum lived near Tel Aviv with his supposed parents, believing he was the only child to a couple of affluent holocaust survivors. He had no comprehension of the level of deception that had been taking place since the day he was born. The hospital. The system. The people he thought were his family.

He had been stolen from his mother in 1956, after she gave birth in an Israeli hospital. His real parents, who had recently immigrated from Tunisia, were told that he had died during childbirth yet they were not able to see his body nor were they given an official death certificate. He began searching for the truth in the 1990s, after his wife became suspicious that there were no photos of his birth, no certificate and his marked difference in skin tone.

When he finally got confirmation from a government clerk that he was adopted and allowed to see his adoption certificate, he knew something did not add up: ‘There was no signature on the adoption papers,’ he said, ‘either from my biological mother or from a judge.’ The welfare services refused to give him details of his biological family and he was forced to spend 3 emotional years conducting his own enquiries before he could locate his birth mother in Haifa and 5 siblings. Deeply upset with his adoptive parents for years, he never confronted them.

Batar hospital where Gil Grunbaum was born closed in 1976 and after the Kedmi inquiry requested to see its archives, officials refused, saying that documents were destroyed by fire or lost. However, a nurse who had worked there, admitted on Israeli TV that potential parents would arrive at the hospital to ‘place an order’ for children, further supporting the idea that many of the adoptive parents involved may have been complicit.

Emotional: Tzila Levine finally reunited with birth mother

Emotional: Tzila Levine finally reunited with birth mother

A US woman, Tzila Levine, was taken in 1949 at 1 year of age, procured from the same type of immigrant ‘absorption camp’ and given to adoptive parents in a different part of Israel.Tzila travelled back to her homeland and found her birth mother in the late 1990s, proving herself to be the blood daughter of a Yemenite Jewish immigrant whose baby was kidnapped 50 years ago.After the positive results of their DNA test, Tzila and her birth mother Margalit Umassi, demanded to know why in all the years following its founding, the state of Israel had mostly disregarded the claims of potentially thousands of Arab-Jewish parents that their babies had vanished.

In 2001 Saada Awawi, a Jewish immigrant from Yemen, was contacted by the state committee responsible for the investigation into the alleged disappearances. Officials told her that they had confirmation that her daughter died in January 1952, on the same day she was born. Her daughter, they ‘confirmed’.

After a 6-year investigation, Awawi was furious: ‘They’re bastards, you know that? They told me I gave birth to a baby girl who died on the same day. It’s an utter lie, an utter lie. I gave birth to a son. I even named him Ezra.’ Awawi even told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in that same year how she had nursed her son in the hospital for five days before being given a vague report by a nurse that he had died of indeterminate causes. Furthermore, the midwife who delivered Awawi’s baby on the floor of a shop near Haifa even confirmed to the newspaper that the baby’s sex as male.

Shlomi Hatuka, a Yemenite teacher and activist helping the families involved to seek justice through his charity Amram, has launched a missing children’s website, through which hundreds more families have come forward with information on missing children, including dismissed or previously- uninvestigated cases. Speaking to Al Jazeera news, Hatuka described how the abductions had deeply affected his own family. In a statement about the heart-breaking plight of his grandmother in the early 1950s he told how she had given birth to twins, before being asked by a nurse to donate one of them for adoption. ‘The nurse said, “You have lots of children, why not let us take one of them?” My grandmother refused. A couple of days later, the nurse told her her baby girl had died. She did not receive a death certificate and was not shown a grave. ‘My mother told me my grandmother talked about her kidnapped child until the day she died. She never got over it. At the time, none of us could really grasp what had happened to [the baby]. It was just too strange. It was impossible to believe.’

The saddest thing of all, is that the examples do not end there. The media has uncovered case after case of individual accounts. Such condemning evidence, even proof, resists the claims of some, such as Israel’s famous commentator Yaron London, that this may be a ‘conspiracy theory’. Conspiracy, certainly, this has been one of the biggest whitewashes in the history of the middle East however… it seems clear by now that it goes well beyond the word ‘theory’.

Also, the statement by Dov Levitan (a Bar Ilan University profesor and so-called expert on Yemenite-Israel immigration): ‘I can’t put even one finger on a case in which I can say that there was an act of abduction or a criminal act’, seems either grossly misinformed or a biased clutch at straws out of loyalty to the Israeli establishment.

Official Testimonies

Individual cases continue to flood the issue, with damning admissions from all sections of government.

4 legislators – 2 from from Netanyahu’s Likud party – recently came forward with the following statements: Nurit Koren told The Jerusalem Post newspaper how her cousin went missing and Nava Boker said that her own siblings were also kidnapped.


Babies were born healthy and apparently never returned to their parents. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Hanna Gibori, head of adoption services in Northern Israel at that time, testified: “Hospital physicians handed over babies for adoption straight out of the hospital, without the official adoption agencies being involved.”

Ahuva Goldfarb, national supervisor of social services at that time, admitted that children had been ‘unregistered’ when sent out of the absorption camps, away from their parents, stating ‘It was systematic as could be.’ Officials told the parents that their child was ‘no longer alive’.

In 1950, a senior health minister, Dr. M Lichtig, expressed written concern to state hospitals that children were not being returned to their parents. His letter revealed: ‘There have been instances in which children were released from hospital and did not return to their parents. Apparently, they were found by people seeking to adopt. The bereaved parents searched for their children … We must make every effort to ensure that such incidents do not repeat themselves.”

A high court judge, Shneur Cheshin, wrote: ‘To our embarrassment, fictitious adoption orders and custodial orders are issued weekly, indeed daily.’. That was in 1955.

Even as the 1960s approached, evidence suggests these horrendous practices were still going on. A Knesset member, Ben-Zion Harel, in 1959 described the ‘unacceptable ways’ babies and toddlers were being removed from Israeli hospitals, saying it bordered on ‘trafficking’.

The Next Step: Declassifying the Hidden Documents

There are over 1.5 million documents on the affair, said state archivist Yaakov Lozowick, which would take approximately 1,000 work days to scan and sort through.

At the Knesset conference in June this year Nissan Slomiansky, the head of the committee, said he would pressure the government to unseal the files, or put forward legislation to officially declassify them. However, he is convinced that ‘the goal should not be to reveal who was responsible.’

On the contrary, Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar demanded answers and accountability. “I, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as a Zionist, want to know what happened, why it happened, who gave these instructions — why the hell it happened in my country.”

The latter is certainly the view shared by the thousands of families that could be affected by this.

Some food for thought: had the shoe been on the other foot, with Jewish babies having been abducted instead of Arab ones, how do you think that Netanyahu’s Israel would proceed today? Would the perpetrators be forgiven? Could they expect the issue to be pardoned and eventually swept under the carpet, something which Netanyahu, in his arrogance, will likely press for with the Yemenite Children’s Affair.

Cook, Jonathan. ‘The shocking story of Israel’s disappeared babies’. Al Jazeera, 5 August 2016. Web.

Newman, Marissa. ‘Wounds over missing Yemenite children open, MKs renew push for truth’. The Times of Israel, June 21 2016. Web

Wikipedia. ‘Yemenite Children Affair’. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 9 August 2016. Web

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