Missing Yemenite children’s families say protocols ‘rewritten’
Relatives of babies and toddlers who disappeared mysteriously between 1948 and 1954 fail to find any answers in the released files related the affair. ‘Most of the information is written in unreadable handwriting, and the information that is readable points to a major cover up by the commission of inquiry,’ says Shosh Levy, whose brother went missing at the age of five months.
Along with the relatives of other children who disappeared during those years, Levy read the commission’s documents which were released for the very first time Wednesday, after the decades of public pressure on the government to approve their publication. “A large part of the protocols and investigation materials were written in unreadable handwriting,” she says. “The information that is readable indicates that the commission engaged in a major cover up.”
The published files have opened old wounds and evoked mixed emotions among the families whose children disappeared those years and whose fate is unknown. According to Shosh Levy, after her brother Tzion Salem disappeared, the state claimed that he had died and was buried. “A lot of details in the protocols are inaccurate, to say the least,” she says after reviewing the files. “We saw the death and burial certificate, and it says there that my brother was born on February 29, 1956, was hospitalized on July 22, 1956 and died the next day. That didn’t match the Interior Ministry records."
“There were inaccuracies in regards to his age too,” she claims. “Some of the documents noted that he was hospitalized when he was 18 months old, and others say he was hospitalized at 10 months. My mother insists that he was hospitalized because of a hernia, while the commission’s report says that the reason of hospitalization was malnutrition and diarrhea, although it’s a lie. Moreover, the most important thing is that there is a contradiction between the testimony my mother gave to the commission and the actual testimony written in the protocol. Someone made sure to ‘beautify’ the reality and rewrite the evidence.”
Thousands of personal files have been exposed in the Yemenite children’s affair, but the file about singer Boaz Sharabi’s sister is not among them. Sharabi, who broke into tears at a Knesset discussion half a year ago, explained Wednesday: “We didn’t submit a complaint to the commission, which is why our story wasn’t investigated. We didn’t believe there was a real chance for a serious investigation into the affair.”
Before the protocols were released, Sharabi spoke about the search for his twin sister Ada. “I’m holding onto a shred of optimism although it seems nearly impossible to uncover the truth,” he said. “There are people who are still trying to hide evidence and cover up. There is no doubt that this has opened a Pandora’s box which doesn’t smell very good, to say the least. High-ranking people were involved in this, and the entire public should know who took part in this thing. I appreciate Minister Tzahi Hanegbi and his willingness to release the commission of inquiry’s documents, but he’s a politician and they have one color and one language."
‘I won’t stop searching till my very last day’
Yair Nissan’s older siblings were kidnapped, as far as the family knows, when they were only a few days old. “My emotions are going in both directions,” he says. “First, I am thankful that they opened up the documents for us to see, but I have doubts over what will happen next, whether they’ll open everything and tell us the entire truth. Because this issue is in our soul and blood. It’s my brothers and many children of many families, and we must reach the truth.
“I have the report, I read the report. That’s not the truth. There is no truth in it. My twin siblings were kidnapped,” he stresses.
What does the report you received say?
“They wrote that my brother died on October 1, 1950 and my sister on November 27, 1950, and that doesn’t match the records. My parents arrived in Israel from Iraq, from Baghdad, on September 30, 1950, and two days later the children didn’t feel so good and were sent to the Rambam Medical Center. They were told, ‘You’ll be taken care of and then come back.’ The committee wrote that my brother passed away on October 1, 1950. That’s impossible, he hadn’t arrived yet. I have an Interior Ministry certificate—my parents arrived on September 30 and my siblings arrived on September 15. That doesn’t make sense. There is no such thing. My siblings weren’t born then. They arrived when they were seven days old.”
Nissan points to further inaccuracies that raise doubts. “It’s impossible that I have death certificates from 1972 and 1973 that my siblings passed away. Where were they until then? When I was a soldier, they came to look for my brother. So my father said to them, ‘My son is in the army. Why are you looking here?’ How is it possible that they came to look for him? Till my very last day, till my very last breath, I will not stop. I have a will from my parents.”
‘They’re hiding more than what they’re revealing’
Yaakov Ben Aba from Rehovot lost five siblings, who were allegedly kidnapped – three in 1944 and the other two in 1948 and 1953. “There is nothing new here,” he says. “Opening the protocols to the public is mockery. It’s in order to keep covering up the affair. Instead of opening the adoption files, they are throwing a bone at us in the form of protocols that will not really get us closer to the truth.”
Ben Aba testified at the time before the Kedmi Commission, which released its conclusions in 2001. “It was one big bluff in order to hide the truth from the public,” he says. The commission’s documents state that the family refused to publish the investigation's findings, but Ben Aba denies that.
“At no stage did we object to the publication of the information,” he says. “I no longer recognize this state. It committed a great crime and betrayed us. They are trying to hide more than they’re revealing. I am 64 years old today and I hope I still get to meet my kidnapped siblings, which is something my parents did not get to see.”
‘We saw no bodies and no grave’
Meir Danin, who says three of his siblings were kidnapped, is skeptical. “I believe there are documents that will never be published. I have no doubt that in most cases documents and evidence were concealed, so the information that is being exposed now is already covered up.”
His mother, the late Hamama Danin, immigrated to Israel in 1949 and gave birth to triplets about a month later in the tent they were housed in. “She and the children were taken to the Djani Hospital in Jaffa. My mother was discharged and they told her at the hospital that the babies would be released later on, but to this very day we still don’t know what happened to the three of them. We saw no bodies and no grave.”
When did Zohara die?
Moti Dahbash testified before the Kedmi Commission in 2001. According to the commission’s protocols, two weeks after his parents immigrated to Israel, his two-year-old sister Zohara was taken to the babies’ home in Rosh Ha’ayin because she was suffering from diarrhea, which he says is a lie. Several days later, when they came to visit her, they were told by the staff that Zohara had died. When the mother asked to see her body, she was told that the girl had already been buried and that her place of burial was unknown.
The commission of inquiry’s conclusions reveal an inconsistency in the records of Zohara’s death. According to death log book of the Jewish Agency, which paid for Zohara’s burial, she passed away at the age of nine. The commission determined that there was a mistake in recording of the information and that she had died at the age of two, several days after being hospitalized.
“I have a little hope, but also a very great fear that nothing will come out of this,” Dahbash says. “So many questions are still left unanswered, and the protocols won’t provide any answers either. There are senior political elements that are still trying to cover up details of the affair. There is no escape from reaching the truth once and for all. We won’t give up until we know where they have all disappeared to.”
Knesset Member Nurit Koren (Likud), head of the Lobby for Researching the Truth in the Kidnapped Yemenite Children Affair, has no intention of letting go. “I have established a DNA database together with the My Heritage company, submitted two bills and worked to open the protocols that are being released to the public today,” she says.
“I welcome the release of the protocols after months of fighting to expose the truth. I am doing this with all my heart. I have been losing sleep over these stories, and beyond the children who were kidnapped from my own family, I feel committed to all the families as if they were my own.
“The release of the protocols is the first layer in exposing the truth. The next stage is establishing a special Knesset committee that will compile all the evidence and provide answers to the thousands of families, including many elderly people who are unable to find answers on the website.
“In addition, my office has received new complaints and evidence which did not reach the previous commission of inquiry. They must be investigated, and the families must receive real answers once and for all.”