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Standoff with Yemenite Sect Ends with No Casualties but Lots of Charges

Israeli police ended a standoff with a group of heavily armed cultists last week without the loss of life.

This week, however, charges are flying that lower-level police officials caved in too easily to the group’s demands and that some Knesset members rushed too quickly to the group’s defense.

In a scene reminiscent of the Branch Davidians who holed up in Waco, Texas, last year, scores of armed followers of Yemenite Rabbi Uzi Meshulam barricaded themselves in the home of their leader in the development town of Yehud. They vowed to kill or be killed if the government did not meet a demand they issued.

Their demand was uniquely Israeli: that the Knesset conduct an “honest” inquiry into the fate of an undetermined number of Yemenite babies who disappeared during 1949 and the early 1950s.

Doctors who recall that period, when tens of thousands of Yemenites arrived in Israel, say the hospitals were ill equipped in the development towns to which the immigrants were assigned. Many children died and many were taken into hospitals without being properly registered.

In the end, last week’s drama ended without the bloodshed that attended the Waco saga, as Knesset members Avraham Poraz, of the Meretz bloc, and Dov Shilansky, of Likud, promised to establish a commission to look into the issue.

POLICE SAY LAW SHAMELESSLY FLOUTED

Two commissions have so far probed the alleged disappearance of the Yemenite children. One of these, set up in 1988 under a former judge, is still gathering information.

Police brass contend the law was shamelessly flouted and denied that lives were at risk.

Certainly, shots were fired by Meshulam’s followers, many of them Yemenites and settlers in the territories who have been armed by the Israel Defense Force.

When they did finally leave shortly before the start of the Sabbath, police took down the serial numbers of their weapons. There have been hints that there will be further police action , possibly including Meshulam’s arrest.

Meshulam did not help his legal situation when, in an interview with army radio, he disclosed the name and address of the head of Shin Bet. That information is confidential, though it is often an open secret among many in Israel.

Because of Passover, the JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published Monday, April 4.

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