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Israel Appoints Panel to Study Disappearance of Yemenite Children

The Israeli Cabinet has agreed to appoint a state commission of inquiry to investigate the disappearance of Yemenite children in the 1950s.

The children had been part of a massive airlift that brought tens of thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel from 1948 to 1950.

Some leaders in the Yemenite community have alleged that Israeli authorities at the time abducted the children and sold them for adoption in Israel and abroad.

The Cabinet’s decision comes three weeks after another committee – headed by retired Judge Moshe Shalgi and appointed six years ago to investigate the matter – issued its findings.

That committee examined 505 cases, and determined that in all but 65, the children died of various illnesses.

The committee also concluded that the children for whom to documentation was found had also probably died of disease.

It found no evidence supporting allegations by some leaders in the Yemenite community that the children were sold for adoption in Israel and abroad.

In March of last year, about 10 heavily armed members of a Yemenite sect led by Rabbi Uzi Meshulam holed themselves up in a fortified house near Tel Aviv, protesting what they described as the “disappearance and sale of thousands of Yemenite children.”

In a scene reminiscent of the Branch Davidians who holed up in Waco, Texas, last year, scores of armed followers of 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.

They demanded 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.

Meshulam’s followers were dispersed following a massive police operation, and several sect members were arrested in May.

Labor Knesset member Avigdor Kahalani, who joined other parliamentarians in drafting a bill to set up a state commission, welcomed the government’s decision.

He said it was an important gesture toward the Yemenite community, for whom the fate of the children is a painful episode in their history.

“This commission will give the feeling to the families that somebody cares about them,” he said. “I think maybe we will find new documents, meet new people that didn’t speak to investigators before and I think we will find more facts.”

In December, after receiving the Shalgi committee report, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin described the disputed disappearances as “one of the most painful periods in the history of the State of Israel.”

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