Between the years 1948 and 1952, thousands of babies, children of mostly Yemenite immigrants to the newly-founded State of Israel, were taken away from their parents. After decades of being silenced, it is time to look those parents in the eye and say: you were wronged. This is not a tall order, it is the bare minimum.
By Rachel’i Said
The facts behind the Yemenite children’s affair are clear for all to see. Hundreds of testimonies by parents of children who disappeared tell a similar story: the children were taken away from their parents, often by force, and some of them never returned. Parents were not allowed to make decisions or receive medical information regarding their children. The death notices they received from hospitals were never backed by medical explanations, documents, or bodies. Parents who demanded to see their dead child were aggressively sent away.
The racist nature of these deeds is clear as well. Approximately 70 percent of families affected were Yemenite immigrants to Israel; 96 percent were of Mizrahi origin. Moreover, the racist policies toward the parents never even disguised themselves as anything but. Separating babies from the families and revoking the rights of the parents to make medical decisions was a matter of policy, not private initiative.
So why can’t Israelis today recognize that the Yemenite children affair took place?
Recognizing the affair means recognizing that the same mechanisms that look out for the “benefit of the child” are the same ones that prevent Israeli LGBTQs from adopting. They are the same ones that remove children of certain ethnic groups from their homes. They are anything but neutral.
Recognizing the Yemenite children affair undermines the image of the first days of the State of Israel as a period full of good intentions. The military censored publishing information on the kidnappings, while parents who demanded to see their children were met with the long arm of the law. These were not mishaps, but deliberate decisions.
Recognizing the Yemenite children’s affair is admitting the existence of mechanisms that whitewash and silence the truth. It is recognizing and warning against the use of the police and the legal system to protect the establishment. It means encouraging critical thinking and demanding transparency.
Recognizing the Yemenite children’s affair means placing trust in Israeli society. Trust in the fact that citizens of the state are able to deal with their own history. Trust that may lead to a society that takes responsibility for existing mechanisms of oppression. Rather than getting defensive, trust means working toward healing.
The fathers and mothers, those whom are still with us, are growing older. After decades of being silenced, it is time to look them in the eye and say: you were wronged. This is not a tall order, it is the bare minimum.