Yemen Jewish children were separated from families, leaked Israel government report suggests

Yemen Jewish children were separated from families, leaked Israel government report suggests
After decades of denying a state policy of separating Yemeni Jewish children from their families, a leaked government report suggests complicity from the Israeli health ministry in the scandal.
3 min read
09 December, 2021
Yemeni Jewish children were abducted in transit camps after immigrating to Israel, says leaked report [Getty]

A draft report from Israel’s ministry of health that appears to show state complicity in the disappearance of thousands of Yemeni children in the 1950s has been obtained by Haaretz.

The report, which the ministry has refused to publish, does not present testimonies or figures regarding the extent of the phenomenon, but it is the first official reference by an Israeli ministry to the scandal that has stained Israel for decades. 

Earlier this year, Israel formally apologised to the families of Yemenite children who had been abducted, but the government stopped short of admitting "responsibility" or institutional involvement in the affair.

Since February, it has been working on a plan for reparations in which affected families would receive approximately $50,000 in return for relinquishing any future claims against the state.

However, the leaked draft report now reveals a deeper involvement by the health ministry - specifically doctors, nurses, and carers - in abducting Yemeni children and acting as middlemen in their adoptions by European Jewish families, often in exchange for money. The revelations are likely to make government plans to settle with families harder.

The motivations for carrying out forced separations of children from their biological parents, stemmed from racist perceptions of "backward immigrants", the report said. 

Professor Itamar Grotto, the ministry's outgoing director, and Dr Shlomit Avni, the ministry’s racism prevention official, who co-authored the document, recommended the health ministry issue an official apology for its involvement in the affair.

In response to the leaked report, the health ministry has said the document was a "draft" and not final.

It added that it will now be reviewed fully, examined, and published without delay. The extent to which the leaked version will now be altered before its official release is unclear. 

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In the years immediately following Israel’s establishment, primarily from 1948 to 1954, more than 1,000 babies born to Yemenite immigrant families disappeared. 

According to the draft report, immigrants who arrived between 1948 and 1952 from Middle Eastern or North African countries were usually housed in transit camps, in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. 

There, "baby quarters" were set up with the aim of safeguarding their health. The report stated that immigrants were told to place their children in these quarters regardless of their health, even if it was contrary to the parents' wishes. The health teams in these quarters included medical personnel who, working alongside the transit camps’ management and security officers, participated in removing children from their parents' care.

The report contradicts the findings of successive state inquiries in 1967, 1988, and 1995 which concluded there was no illicit adoption plot by the state. A further inquiry in 2001, said it was possible that social workers had put children up for adoption, but not as part of a government conspiracy.