Israel seeks lost children of Yemen exodus

Immigrant mystery: Graves to be opened in dispute over what happened to Oriental Jews who disappeared in the 1950s

PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

Forty-year-old graves are to be opened by an Israeli government commission of inquiry in an effort to resolve the bitter dispute over what happened to the children of Yemeni Jews who allegedly disappeared soon after arriving in the 1950s.

The controversy, which has already led to a gun-battle between militant Yemenites and police, is likely to deepen with the revelation that autopsies were secretly carried out on the bodies of children who died. Ami Hovav, an investigator with the government commission, told Israeli television: "Post-mortems were performed on the Yemenite children. That's why they were not returned to their parents."

Some 50,000 Jews came to Israel from Yemen in the 1950s and many of them and their families believe passionately that thousands of their children were abducted by the authorities of the day. They accuse them of allowing Jewish families from Europe to adopt children, whose parents were then told they were dead.

The digging up of graves is at the request of the Yemeni community. Examination by radar reportedly shows that some of the graves are empty. If this turns out to be true then Yemenites will see this as evidence of mass kidnapping.

"We have been authorised to open unmarked graves where Yemenite children are suspected to have been buried," said the retired judge who heads the commission, Yehuda Cohen.

Most controversially, an investigation by Israel's commercial television station says that medical experiments were carried out on Yemenite children. Dr Ya'akov Rotamm, director of a children's hospital, is reported to have said that doctors injected healthy children in order to evaluate the level of phosphorus in their spinal fluid. Dov Levitan, the foremost Israeli specialist on the immigration of the Yemenite Jews, said the allegation is "sick" and without foundation.

The dispute over the fate of the children has already exploded into violence. In 1994 Rabbi Uzi Meshulam and 40 Yemenite followers protesting over "the sale of 4,000 Yemenite children" in the 1950s, armed themselves with sub-machine guns and barricaded themselves in a house and synagogue in the town of Yehud near Ben-Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv. The siege ended after two months in an exchange of fire with police in which one man was killed. Rabbi Meshulam was sentenced to eight years in jail.

Previous investigations have revealed that most of the missing children were not kidnapped, but died in hospital. In the confusion of the camps for newly-arrived immigrants, many of whom were sick when they arrived, parents sometimes could not be found. A few healthy children whose parents could not be located were sent to orphanages or were adopted.

The dispute over what happened to the missing children has become a symbol of the discontent of Oriental Jews at what they see as the hostility or indifference of the Israeli establishment.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'