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Israel Makes A Stunning Move About The Yemenite Missing Children From Its Past

By Savannah Smith, The Goldwater · 12-30-2016
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to be on a fighting stance- this time seemingly for "historical justice" as he unloaded yesterday a powerful bomb-the truth, or at least crucial elements of it, behind the fate of the missing Yemenite children of the '50s.

As a strong indication that Netanyahu is ready to confront painful questions and serious scars into a dark period in Israel's history, he led a website launching ceremony that effectively made public for the first time voluminous documents worth about 400,000 pages of data and information related to the missing children. The same documents became the bases for the three inquiry committees put up in the years 1967, 1988 and 1995 to investigate the case of the missing children. Netanyahu declared that now "with one touch of the keyboard", the world and anyone interested can have access to the documents and trace what happened to the children from that painful era.

In 1948 to 1954 when Israel was still on its infancy as a state, hundreds of babies and toddlers from families of Mizrahi descent, mostly from Yemen, disappeared in mysterious circumstances during the massive wave of immigration at that time. In most cases, parents were told that their children have died but no official confirmation or pieces of evidence were given to prove the children's supposed deaths. Years since then, families of the missing or reported dead children came to believe that their children were in fact kidnapped and either given away or sold off to Ashkenazi families.

In June, Netanyahu appointed Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to reexamine the evidence collected from the three previous inquiries. The cabinet decided to release the classified documents in November, in the process overturning a 2001 decision to seal the documents until 2071.

Hanegbi called Israel's decision yesterday to finally declassify information on the case as a " big day to correct a big injustice", and that the government is compelled to do that now out of a " moral need to reveal the truth."

The archives now made open to the public include 3,500 case files which contained original background materials collected by the inquiry committees including hospital records, birth certificates, death certificates, burial records, photos and personal testimonies.

Hanegbi acknowledged the huge trauma the matter has caused to the families and hoped that this new-found transparency will help the families reach closure for their sufferings. The only reason Hanegbi would give behind the surprising decision to make the documents accessible to the public now is that when Netanyahu asked him to review the documents, he found " no justification for keeping them classified."

Hanegbi denied there was any organized effort by the government then to take children away from their parents as he said the investigating committee believed that many of those children did die in the hospitals. There was no denying, however, the other side: that about a thousand children disappeared without graves, reasons for their deaths, funerals or even their remains.

The Israeli government is also calling for the establishment of a DNA bank for the sake of the survivors from that dark part of the nation's history nearly 70 years ago. A genetic database would help solve more of the mystery behind the missing children and aid the survivors in tracing their remaining relatives, should they wish so.

Various Israeli officials agree that the case was a heavy burden on the society that should have been dealt long ago. While for many generations of Israeli citizens that part of history was a " phenomena of neglect, discrimination and racism", many agree that coming out with an unprecedented openness and transparency now about the issue is a major win for Israel and a step towards the right direction for healing for all concerned, especially for the families of the children.

The Israeli government did not make any clarification on whether the timing and intent of the declassifying information at this point about the missing Yemenite children have anything to do with Israel's current issues with the U.S. after the latter refused to veto the U.N. vote condemning Israel settlements. It does, however, send the message that Netanyahu is ready for truths to be dropped like bombshells and that he is not scared of secrets being revealed.

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