DNA test puts to rest mystery of one missing Yemenite child

JERUSALEM, July 12 (JTA) — A painful chapter in the life of Menachem Sharabi’s family has been closed after a genetic test on the remains of a child’s grave confirmed the identity of his sister, Leah, who died some four decades ago. But for Sharabi, the news could not undo 40 years of hurt and uncertainty his family suffered, not knowing whether his sister had died or was taken for illegal adoption — as some members of the Yemenite community in Israel allege happened to hundreds of children who disappeared during the early years of the state. Some members of the Yemenite community have long alleged that hundreds of their children were kidnapped and sold to Ashkenazi families, but the results of DNA tests performed in Britain and announced Monday indicated that at least in the case of Leah Sharabi, this did not happen. Just the same, her brother is angry that Israeli officials never informed the family of her death. Menachem Sharabi also questioned why the family kept “getting notices from the election board, the income tax authority” as well as from other places “indicating that she is still alive.” He agreed that the DNA results represented the “closing of a circle,” but added, “Why didn’t they tell us? What were they afraid to tell us? Sharabi was among the members of 10 Yemenite families who were informed by Health Minister Shlomo Benizri of the DNA results on remains exhumed from 10 children’s graves at a cemetery in central Israel. The graves were exhumed three years ago at the request of the families in order to determine whether their children had indeed been buried there. The DNA tests were able to determine the family origins of only one set of remains, Benizri told the families. He said the decomposition of the other remains, as well as the limitations of current technology, make it impossible for the British pathologists to draw sufficient genetic material to conduct the other tests. “At this point, we have done all that we can with the available technology. Perhaps in several more years we would be able to learn more,” Benizri said. For the families, the report prompted mixed reactions. Shlomo Ba’agali, whose infant son disappeared, said he still hopes his son is alive. “How can it be that we brought him [alive] and in the morning they told us he is gone?” he told reporters after hearing the results. “I will not be quiet until I die.” Rami Tsuberi, a lawyer who has represented Yemenite families in the disappearance cases, said he would continue to seek answers. The disappearance of the Yemenite children in the 1950s is one of the most painful chapters in the early history of the State of Israel. It spawned several inquiries, including a state commission that is still active. Previous panels concluded that most of the children, who arrived in the large immigration waves of the early 1950s, died of various illnesses. The panels suggested that disorganization in the new state’s medical and administrative institutions, as well as communication gaps between health workers and the newly arrived Yemenite immigrants, led to poor record keeping and confusion over the fate of the children. DNA testing played a major role in a case that made headlines in Israel almost two years ago. In August 1997, an Israeli woman from Yemen was thought to have been reunited with her biological daughter on the basis of genetic testing. But subsequent DNA tests indicated that Tzila Levine was not the long-lost daughter of Margalit Omassi, who immigrated to Israel from Yemen in the late 1940s.

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