17 graves to be exhumed in Yemenite missing children case

State Attorney permits exhumation of 17 graves for genetic testing, hopes findings will shed light on the fate of missing Yemenite children.

By: Margot Dudkevitch, World Israel News

The State Attorney’s office on Tuesday approved the request of 17 families of Yemenite origin, whose children went missing decades ago, to exhume the remains from 17 graves for genetic testing, to determine if they are the remains of family members. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate approved the move as long as the procedure is conducted in accordance with Jewish ritual law.

For decades, more than 1,000 families, mostly immigrants from Yemen, as well as the Balkans, North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries, have maintained their children were kidnapped from hospitals in Israel and put up for adoption. At the time, many parents were told by the authorities their children had died.

Arutz Sheva noted that a number of committees were established over the years to examine the allegations. The Bahlul-Minkowski Committee set up in 1967 revealed that of the 342 cases studied, 316 revealed that the child in question had died, two were adopted and the fate of the remaining 24 children remains unknown.

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In the 1980s, an additional investigation found that no conclusive evidence was uncovered to support the fate of the children. In 1995, a State Inquiry Commission was established to probe more than 800 claims but found that in more than 90 percent of the cases, the child died shortly after birth.

In December 2016, the state archives declassified some 400,000 documents concerning the missing Yemenite children’s affair, but the findings were rejected by the families who demanded the government take responsibility. The Knesset recently approved a bill initiated by Knesset member Nurit Koren allowing families of children who went missing, and were later declared dead by the authorities, to apply for court approval to open the graves for DNA authentication.

A statement released by the State Attorney’s office said, “The decision has been made with attention to the public importance of discovering the truth in the matter of the death and burial of minors who came from Yemen, the Orient and the Balkans, whose families were informed of their death in the years following Israel’s establishment. In these circumstances, the attorney’s office has agreed that a warrant will be issued to exhume the bodies and take DNA samples to conduct tests.”

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This is not the first time that remains will be exhumed to determine their origin. In 1996, Tzahi Hanegbi, who served as health minister at the time, approved the exhumation of 10 graves in Petah Tikva as part of the investigation into the fate of the missing Yemenite children.