Israel delves into missing children debacle

2016-07-13 07:10


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Jerusalem - The stories have been circulating in Israel for decades: Newborn babies and young children of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries mysteriously disappeared shortly after arriving in the country, purportedly snatched away and given to childless couples of European backgrounds.

Although a series of inquiries have dismissed claims of abductions, the accusations of a conspiracy have lingered. The government is now moving to declassify reams of documents surrounding the affair, hoping to unravel a 60-year-old mystery that touches on one of the most sensitive issues in the country: the long-simmering fault line between Jews of European origin and those of Middle Eastern backgrounds.

Transit camps

Leading the charge is Nurit Koren, a freshman lawmaker of Yemenite origin from the ruling Likud Party.

"I want to know the truth. I want to know who took the children...where they were taken and if they are alive," she said.

This is a serious wound that needs to be opened to heal society."

Arriving from Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa after Israel's establishment in 1948, many Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern, immigrants were sent to shantytown transit camps and largely sidelined by the European, or Ashkenazi, leaders of the founding Labour Party. This seminal experience contributed to their massive support for Likud.

Among the immigrants were more than 50 000 Yemenite Jews, often poor and with large families. In the chaos that accompanied their influx, some children died while others were separated from their parents.

But many say the reality was far more sinister...that the establishment kidnapped these children - and others of Iraqi, Tunisian, or Moroccan descent - to turn them over for adoption by Ashkenazi families in the belief that they could give them a better life.

In later years, families reported being mailed military induction notices, tax information and senior citizen cards for their supposedly "dead" children, raising more speculation that something was awry.

Tracking down

Three high-profile commissions dismissed the claims and found that most children died of disease in immigration camps. The final one, in 2001, said it was possible that some children were handed over for adoption by individual social workers, but not as part of a national conspiracy.

However, citing privacy laws, it ordered that the testimonies it collected be sealed for 70 years. At Koren's prodding, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed a Cabinet minister to re-examine the material and consider publishing it.

"I think it is time to find out what happened, to do justice and make order of all this," Netanyahu said.

The renewed interest in the case comes mostly as a result of the efforts of second and third generation Mizrahi advocacy groups. They've collected new testimonies, launched awareness campaigns and opened a DNA database for those interested in tracking down their biological families.

Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  israel

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