A leader of the Yemenite Jewish community in America has echoed calls already sounded in Israel for an investigation into the disappearance of hundreds of Yemenite children soon after they were brought to Israel in the late 1940s.
The story of the rescue of the Yemenite Jews is one of the most romantic in early Israeli history, but the Yemenite Jews in the United States and Israel say there is a hidden dark side to the story.
Hundreds of Yemenite children mysteriously disappeared from absorption centers and development towns during the late 1940s and early 1950s, these advocates charge.
Sampson Giat, president of the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America, recently returned from a trip to Israel, where he had the opportunity to talk to parents who were told their young children had died.
Years later, these parents received notices claiming their children had no reported for army duty,indicating they were still alive.
Giat shared the story with his fellow Sephardi Jews at the annual gathering of the American Sephardi Federation, held here last week.
“During Operation Magic Carpet [which brought the Yemenite Jews to Israel], many immigrant families suffered a loss of one or more children under suspicious circumstances,” Giat said.
“These families relate similar stories: a child was brought to the children’s house at an absorption center or hospital, and after a period of time the family was informed that the child had died. The family was never given a death certificate, nor was the family shown a body or a grave.
“When I was in Israel I talked to several families and their stories were all eerily the same,” he added.
Giat’s visit to Israel came during a time of renewed interest there in the fate of the missing Yemenite children.
A government commission appointed six years ago to look into the matter issued its findings several weeks ago. The commission,headed by retired judge Moshe Shalgi, found no evidence supporting allegations by some leaders in the Yemenite community that the children were sold for adoption in Israel and abroad.
The committee examined 505 cases, and determined that in all but 65, the children died of various illnesses.
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.”
They were eventually dispersed following a massive police operation, and several sect members were arrested in May.
Giat expressed dissatisfaction with the Shalgi investigation and with an earlier one conducted years ago by the Israeli government.
He said that neither was empowered to subpoena records or to compel testimony under penalty of perjury.
Giat stressed that the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America is a sincere friend of Israel. “But Israel must have an open investigation into the fate of these children.
“If the investigation implicates the government, then the government should make amends to the families that have suffered. If the government is exonerated, then an open investigation will put to rest the damaging rumors of a cover-up,” Giat said.
Since Giat’s visit to Israel, the Israeli Cabinet has agreed to appoint a state commission of inquiry to investigate the matter.
“We must continue to press for an open investigation and an investigation that has teeth in it, so the fate of these children can be learned,” said the American-born Giat.
“The members of the Yemenite community are a humble people and devoted citizens who have contributed a great deal to the State of Israel. They deserve to know the truth.”