Body of ‘stolen’ Israeli toddler to be exhumed, DNA tested

Family wins court battle to test remains of their relative, who died mysteriously in the 1950s, but expressed doubts over the integrity of the state’s investigation.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

After a court battle stretching some five years, the family of a boy who mysteriously died in the 1950s was permitted to open his grave and exhume his body for DNA testing on Monday.

Uziel Khoury was born in Israel to parents who had recently immigrated from Tunisia. In 1952, when he was about a year old, he fell ill.

Welfare Services took the boy to a nearby hospital, and his parents were subsequently informed that he had passed away. However, the family never saw the boy’s body.

His sister, Chaya Mazuz, told Kan News that the authorities told the family that he needed treatment “for a month or two and then they’d bring him back.” But after one day, “they called [and said] ‘he died.’ How could it be? It wasn’t even 24 hours.”

The Khoury family was given multiple versions of his cause of death, Mazuz said.

“One time they said it was because they dropped him. Another time they said he had a heart attack and died. Another time they said he had a fever of 40 C (104 F). Every time they said something different.”

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She said that her family was “simple” and that they trusted the authorities, but they did find it strange that they were never shown the body.

She added that the Khourys had requested to bury the boy’s body in their northern Israel hometown of Haifa, “but [the authorities] said, there’s no need. We’ll bury him, we’ll do everything. Go home.”

Khoury was buried in Segula Cemetery in the central Israel city of Petah Tikvah. His family believes that DNA testing will reveal that the grave was empty or that the remains inside are not of Khoury.

Although the exhumation is being video recorded, authorities banned the Khoury family from being present at the cemetery. That raised suspicion with their attorney, Rachel Dotan.

Dotan told Hebrew-language media that it appears that the grave had been previously tampered with and that she has serious doubts about the integrity of the state investigation.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Israel’s Health Ministry and Welfare Services seized several thousand sick babies and children from Jewish families of North African, Middle Eastern, and Balkan origin, the majority of them Yemenite, and then informed the parents that their children had died.

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The fact that the parents were typically informed of their child’s death after long delays, given contradicting stories about how their children perished and were not allowed to view the bodies led many to believe that their family members had actually been given up for adoption.

While the Israeli government strenuously denied the allegations for decades, even imprisoning those who had advocated on behalf of the families, state authorities have tacitly admitted in recent years that some of the accusations were true.

A report on the matter was recently blocked from being released to the public by the Health Ministry, much to the chagrin of former director-general Dr. Itamar Grotto and other researchers who believe the information must be accessible to Israel’s citizens.

Although the state formally continues to deny the existence of an institutionalized policy of child abduction during the 1950s and 1960s, the government quietly set aside 162 million shekels (about $48 million) in a compensation fund for the families last year.