Labour Zionism's Kidnapping and Abduction of Thousands of Yemenite Babies
|Children were routinely separated from their parents on kibbutzes Spielberg Jewish Film Archive|
Led by the Labour Zionist movement which ruled Israel from 1948 till 1977, Israel’s rulers sought to eradicate the backward ‘Orientalist’ culture and behaviour of the Arab Jews. Zionism sought to bring over the Arab Jews as the new Israeli working class but they wanted to eradicate their Arab heritage as part of the creation of the new Israeli Jewish people.
In many Arab countries, like Morocco and Iraq, there was a deliberate policy of destabilisation of the Jewish communities. There was a steady determination that those communities had to be destroyed and transplanted to Israel. See The Zionist Destruction of the Iraqi Jewish Community - When the Zionist Underground Planted Bombs Outside Baghdad’s Jewish Cafés and Synagogues. The Zionist movement was nothing if not ruthless. It needed to replace the Palestinians, who had been expelled because they were not Jewish, with working class Jews, even if it meant uprooting ancient communities and destroying their way of life.
The racist attitudes which led to the destruction of these communities also made itself felt once these communities reached Israel. In the case of the Yemenite Jews, who were the first Arab Jews to be brought over, thousands of their babies and children were simply kidnapped and abducted, whilst their parents were told they had suddenly died.
Zionism had sought to create a racially pure Jewish state. They were fascinated by the ideas of eugenics [see Nazi & Zionist Eugenics] and selective breeding. What better way to improve the human material than to separate babies off from their ‘backward’ parents. A state based on racist barbarism towards the indigenous population was scared lest the same ‘unhealthy traits’ reappear in the Arab Jews.
Thousands in Jerusalem protest abduction of Yemenite babies following disclosure some were experimented on
The surviving relatives of Yemenite Jewish children that families says were abducted by staff at state-run medical facilities and illicitly sold into adoption protest in Jerusalem. The demonstrators called for the Israeli government to investigate the alleged systematic kidnappings known as the Yemenite Children Affair, June 21, 2017.
(Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum and Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)
Over 2,000 Israeli Yemenite Jews and supporting activists gathered in Jerusalem last Wednesday to mark an annual day of awareness for what families say was a state-sponsored program to abduct Yemenite Jewish infants and other Israeli children born to parents who were recent immigrants from Arab countries.
Known as the Yemenite Children Affair, in the first decade after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, there was a systematic kidnapping of newborn Yemenite children, carried out by Israeli hospitals and government institutions. Mothers, who often were in Israel for a short time and did not speak Hebrew, would enter hospitals or other state facilities to give birth. Once the child was born medical staff told the parents the child died unexpectedly. Yet none of the families were shown bodies or burial documents. Many of the families did not practice any mourning ceremonies because they believed their missing children were still alive.
|(Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum and Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org|
The babies who went missing, parents claim, were given away to childless Ashkenazi families (Jews of European descent–the dominant ethnic group in Israel at the time), leaving the Yemenite families with no answers regarding their children’s fate. In most cases, the families were told the children died unexpectedly.
There have been a few national state committees tasked with investigating the matter over the decades, but they were previously accused of ignoring real evidence and helping government efforts to cover up the affair. Following recent pressure by the third generation of Jewish Yemenite activists, part of the national archives and state protocols were disclosed to the public.
Last year Benjamin Netanyahu had more than 3,500 government files on the investigation into the disappearance of the children published online. A Knesset committee followed up by confirming earlier this month that Yemenite babies died during the 1950s after state medical institutions conducted experiments on them. Despite the disclosures, the families are still in the dark regarding their relatives, and the matter is still an open wound in the Israeli society.
Seeking more answers, the Israeli nonprofit Amram organized the protest in Jerusalem last week under the title “Recognition, Justice, Healing,” calling on the government to open all of the national archives, which could allow for family reunification. The demonstrators also want the affair recognized as a crime against humanity.
This was the largest protest on the topic in the history of Israel to date.
|(Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum and Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org|
Shiraz Grinbaum is an independent photographer and photo-editor, and a member of the Activestills Photography Collective since 2012. She is the co-editor of the book "Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel" (Pluto Press, 2016). Yotam Ronen is an independent photographer and a co-founder of the Activestills Photography Collective. He is a staff member for Walla!, an Israeli news outlet.
21 June 2017
In the years after the creation of the Israeli state hundreds of babies went missing. Their parents, mostly Jewish immigrants from Yemen, were told their children had died, but suspicions linger that they were secretly given away to childless families - and newly released documents have revealed some disturbing evidence.
|Leah shows a death certificate for her daughter from 1969 - she was also given one dated 1966|
When Leah Aharoni remembers losing her baby daughter five decades ago, she bursts into tears.
"I just saw her for a short time. She was pretty with fair skin. She opened her eyes and looked at me, as if she was saying: 'Don't let me go,'" she says.
Leah had given birth to premature twins in a hospital near her home in Kiryat Ekron, in central Israel, but the little girls were sent away to be cared for.
|Leah’s family (she is second from the left) before they left Aden|
She was told they were being taken to a special clinic in Tel Aviv. But when Leah's husband visited soon afterwards, only one of the twins was there. The other, Hanna, had died, he was informed.
Leah was shocked not to be shown a body or a grave - a common feature of such stories - but she and her husband did not doubt the heart-breaking news.
It was only years later that she began asking questions, when her surviving daughter, Hagit, turned 18 and was called for national military service.
Two draft notices arrived in the post simultaneously. One for Hagit - and one for Hanna. This is another hallmark of missing baby stories.
|KNESSET SPECIAL COMMITTEE - Disturbing photographs of malnourished children in hospital with the word "spleen" marked on their body were shown in evidence to the Knesset special committee|
Media caption 'I want to know where my daughter went'
"It started to bother me. Something was not right. I couldn't sleep at night. I decided I had to know what happened," Leah says.
Leah had experienced many calamities long before the loss of her baby. As a child, she and her family had joined thousands of Jews fleeing violence in Yemen. They were robbed as they trekked from one end of the country to the other and Leah was reduced to begging for food. Then they were rescued in an airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet.
|Rafi Shubeli, Yemenite-Israeli historian and activist from the group Our Brothers Exist, giving evidence in the Knesset|
"It was the land I had always dreamed about," the 78-year-old recalls, remembering the flight to Israel.
"When we got off the plane everyone kissed the holy ground.
"Then we heard the bombs and grenades and saw the smoke."
They had arrived, malnourished and penniless, during the first Arab-Israeli war.
Many Yemenite Jews spent periods in transit camps before being settled in homes, and stories of babies going missing began to arise immediately.
Some reports talk of children disappearing after visits to the camps by wealthy American Jews.
In other cases children appeared to be recovering in hospitals from relatively minor ailments when the parents were suddenly told they had died.
On kibbutzes, where some of the Yemenites settled, it was typical for youngsters to be separated from their parents and looked after together, and here too it's said that some children vanished.
Image copyright Spielberg Jewish Film Archive Image caption Children were routinely separated from their parents on kibbutzes
Estimates of the number of missing children range from hundreds to thousands.
In many cases the parents believe their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to families of European Jews - occasionally Holocaust survivors who had lost their children - or Americans.
Over time, Leah, like many other parents, ceased to believe in the story of her child's death.
"I went to my father and told him, but he said I should never suspect another Jew stole my child," she says.
She went in search of documents that would reveal the truth about what happened to Hanna, and was deeply disturbed by what she found.
One document she obtained said the babies were moved to Tel Aviv after the date on Hanna's death certificate.
Another was a second death certificate, dated three years later than the first - long after Leah and her husband had been told their daughter had died.
Like Leah, most parents received no information about their child's grave. When they did, in some cases it transpired that the grave was empty, or DNA tests showed that the body was not theirs.
Three government inquiries have looked into the Yemenite Children Affair, as it is known, since the 1960s, and all have concluded that most children died of diseases and were buried without their parents being informed or involved.
But many of the families involved suspect a cover-up and continue to believe that there was an organised operation to snatch children, involving health workers and government officials.
So last year the government of Benjamin Netanyahu decided to open up most of the archives of the public inquiries and put them online.
Netanyahu said this marked a new era of transparency and would "right an historic wrong".
Last week it led to shocking revelations in a Knesset committee about medical experiments on Yemenite children. Testimony given under oath at one of the earlier inquiries revealed that four undernourished babies died after being given an experimental protein injection, and that many children died as a result of medical negligence.
Image copyright Knesset Special Committee Image caption Disturbing photographs of malnourished children in hospital with the word "spleen" marked on their body were shown in evidence to the Knesset special committee
Post-mortem examinations were carried out on children, who were then buried in mass graves in violation of Jewish tradition, the special Knesset committee on the disappearance of children heard. In some cases the children's hearts were removed for US doctors, who were studying why there was almost no heart disease in Yemen.
"It's a big scandal that the doctors didn't tell the parents they were doing experiments and research on their children," says Nurit Koren, the chair of the committee.
"And even worse there are healthy babies who died from an experimental treatment. It's a crime, it was on purpose, and it let to their death."
Koren is herself the child of parents from Yemen. One of her cousins and her mother-in-law's sister were among the children who disappeared. So one of her objectives, on being elected, was to reopen the subject, which she describes as "an open wound in the heart of the Israeli nation".
One of the disturbing aspects of the Yemenite Children Affair is the way the darker-skinned immigrants appear to have been treated as second-class citizens. The founders of Israel were mostly Ashkenazi Jews, of European descent, some of whom expressed fears that Mizrahi (literally "Eastern") Jews brought with them a backwards "Oriental" culture that might damage the new state.
"Zionism - what is it really about?" asks Rafi Shubeli, a Yemenite-Israeli historian and activist from the group Our Brothers Do Exist.
"What were its intentions towards Mediterranean Jews, the Jews of the Islamic world?
"There are very many elements in Israeli society who want to avoid this kind of discussion."
Whether there was an organised conspiracy to snatch Yemenite babies and give them away for adoption remains unproven though, according to historian Tom Segev, who has written books on Israel's early years and served as an expert witness for one government inquiry.
He points out that hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Israel at a time of war, and in the years immediately afterwards, when the country was still reeling.
"All these people came in very, very difficult conditions and it's a story of chaos," Segev says.
Media captionTom Segev: "I don't think there was a conspiracy"
Yemenites were housed in tents and had to endure heavy winters. There were child mortality rates of 50%, he points out.
Some children may have been given away, he accepts.
"In some cases this might have happened: one, two, three, four, 10 - I don't know how many," he says.
But in most cases the children just died, he believes.
"It's probably the most tragic story of the return of Jews to Israel."
Working with Nurit Koren, MyHeritage, a company that researches family ancestry, recently began offering help to Yemenite Jews who have a missing child, or who think they were secretly adopted.
Leah Aharoni, who has long been convinced that her daughter, Hanna, could be alive and searching for her biological family, gave a DNA sample - samples of cells from the inside of her cheek - to be checked against others in a new database for Yemenite-Israelis.
"I want to find out where my daughter went. I want her to know that I didn't abandon her, that I love her," Leah says. "I was tricked."
She is encouraged by a few cases in which adults in Israel and abroad found out they had been adopted, and managed to trace their Yemenite parents. She is still waiting to find out if there is a match for her.
At a beachside cafe in Haifa, I meet a physicist who is philosophical about how his life was shaped by this time of turmoil.
|Image caption Yehuda Kantor found his biological family through DNA testing|
He had spent more than 20 years searching for his biological mother - making regular appearances in the media to publicise his case.
"I got hundreds of telephone numbers and lots of information but none quite fitted my story. I tried some DNA tests but it was in vain," Yehuda says.
Yehuda had a happy childhood, raised in nearby Afula by Batia and Asher Kantor, an Ashkenazi Jewish couple originally from Eastern Europe.
Image caption Yehuda as a child with his adoptive family
Photographs show he had a darker complexion than his relatives and school friends.
However, it was not until he reached his twenties that he discovered what much of his close-knit community already knew: he was adopted.
His mother, who had been unable to conceive, revealed she had brought him home from a small orphanage, aged three.
She always feared losing him and so, out of respect for his adoptive parents, it was only after they died that Yehuda opened his adoption file.
This showed no signature of consent from his Yemenite biological mother and gave only her first name, Zahara.
MyHeritage was able to use that to trace a grave for a woman who had died 17 years ago.
They then approached her five children asking them to do DNA tests. These showed they are the half-brother and half-sisters of Yehuda.
"Wow, there are a lot," remarked Yehuda, as he was told the news ahead of an emotional first meeting filmed by Israeli television.
His biological siblings had never been told of the existence of an older brother and were unable to explain the circumstances of his adoption.
However, they were able to give some information on his roots and Yehuda is delighted to be getting to know them better.
"I'm happy the circle was completed and I now know the history, the origin and I know which family [I'm from] from a genetic point of view," he says.
"You cannot regret what happened in the past. This is my life. I accept it as it is."
Additional reporting by Erica Chernofsky