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Hundreds demand recognition, reparations for Israel's practice of family separation

Hundreds of protesters chant outside Netanyahu’s residence and block major thoroughfares in Jerusalem demanding recognition, reparations, and accountability for the abduction of Yemenite, Balkan, and Mizrahi children by state authorities between the late 1940s and the 1960s. 

Protesters demand recognition and reparations for the state's abduction of Yemenite, Mizrahi, and Balkan children between the late 1940s and the 1960s. June 21, 2018. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Protesters demand recognition and reparations for the state’s abduction of Yemenite, Mizrahi, and Balkan children between the late 1940s and the 1960s. June 21, 2018. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Roughly 350 people demonstrated outside of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, calling on the government to officially acknowledge the state’s abduction of Yemenite, Mizrahi, and Balkan children between the late 1940s and 1960s. The protesters demanded the government open its records to public scrutiny and recognize the injustice done to the families from whom the children were taken and their communities.

Family members of abducted children read aloud heartbreaking testimonies and protesters shutdown several major thoroughfares in Jerusalem, chanting slogans such as “where are the children, open the files” and denouncing institutions such as the Women’s International Zionist Organization and Hadassah, which operated some of the institutions from which children were taken.

Parents who lost children, brothers who lost sisters, and members of the younger generation recounted similar stories of otherwise healthy children taken at hospitals by medical staff who claimed the children had died — but who refused to provide death certificates or return the children’s bodies for burial.

“They took the boy to the children’s house in Ein Shemer, and my mother would go there to nurse him,” recalled Melli Ya’acov, who said her brother had been abducted. “One day, she went to nurse him, and they told her he died.”

“She said, ‘it can’t be, I saw him, I hugged him, I played with him,” Ya’acov continued. “She was in shock. She and my father asked for the child to bury him, but they said, ‘we’ve already buried him.’ There was nothing, no child, no body. They abducted him, and since then we’ve been looking for him.”

“One day, 18 years later, we received an [army] draft order for a boy — I hadn’t even known,” she concluded. “It is my parents’ will to continue to look for the boy.”

A protester testifies about the abduction of Yemenite, Balkan, and Mizrahi children. June 21, 2018. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

A protester testifies about the abduction of Yemenite, Balkan, and Mizrahi children. June 21, 2018. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Thursday marked the day of awareness for what is known as the Affair of the Children from Yemen, the Balkans, and the East. This was the second year in a row that family members of abducted children and organizations working on the issue held a protest in Jerusalem. They are demanding official recognition of the injustice and reparations, which will allow the decades-old wound carried by these communities, as well as the country, for decades to heal.

Over the years, various investigative committees have revealed the names of more than 1,000 children born in Israel who disappeared after arriving at hospitals or other, similar institutions between 1948 and 1954. The real number of children who were abducted, however, is likely to be much higher. Thousands of families have been searching for their lost children for  years. Many parents died without knowing their children’s fate.

In December 2016, after decades of struggle, the Israeli government revealed hundreds of thousands of documents that dealt with the abductions. In response, social activists and a range of organizations demanded the Prime Minister begin negotiations over the reparations that the communities are demanding. A committee was established, headed by MK Nurit Koren (Likud).

Activists claim that the government has not recognized the severity of the scandal and is attempting to shirk accountability.

“The government doesn’t want to take responsibility, it wants the parents, the brothers, and the sisters to continue to suffer,” said the poet Shlomi Hatuka, Chair of the Board of the Amram Association and one of the protest’s organizers.

Protesters mark the day of awareness for the Yemenite Children Affair. June 21, 2018. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Protesters mark the day of awareness for the Yemenite Children Affair. June 21, 2018. (Shiraz Grinbaum/Activestills.org)

Yosef Cohen, also an activist with the Amram Association, stressed that it was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s responsibility to address the historical injustice.

“It’s true that these things were done decades ago, when Mapai was in power, but today you are prime minister, and the public responsibility to solve this problem is yours,” Cohen said, directing the demands toward the prime minister.  “We don’t want more committees in the Knesset, we don’t want more Knesset members talking and calling for more meetings. We know the prime minister’s abilities and that’s why we’re going specifically to him — we want him to solve the problem.”

“Grandma and grandpa might have been naive and believed in the establishment, or in the people who carried out these crimes, but we are not naive,” Cohen continued. “We won’t remain silent, we won’t stop, we’ll continue to push until we get recognition and justice — until Israeli society heals.”

Joshua Leifer contributed to this report.

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    1. Ben

      The severity of this is shocking. The way people of a certain non-European, non-Ashkenazi ethnicity were treated with such contempt and cold cruelty. If Israelis cannot face this, what was done to Jews, how will they ever face that which was done and is done to Arabs? There’s a long way to go.

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    2. Does any body know why these dear ones were abducted – where were they taken – and why? (obv. nothing remotely justifies this barbaric act – but I was wondering what the authorities were thinking by doing this? Were they drafted into Zionist projects? or what?) Thanks.

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