JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli government approved a plan Monday to offer $ 50 million in compensation to the families of hundreds of Yemeni children who went missing in the first years of the country’s establishment.
But the announcement received a cold reception from advocacy groups who said the government did not apologize or take responsibility for the matter.
Stories about missing children have circulated in Israel for years. Hundreds of newborns and young children of Jewish immigrants from Arab and Balkan countries, most of them from Yemen, mysteriously disappeared shortly after arriving in the country.
Many families believe that their children were taken away and given to childless couples of European origin, both in Israel and abroad. Although previous investigations have dismissed allegations of mass kidnappings, suspicions have persisted and contributed to a long-standing dividing line between Jews of European origin and those of the Middle East.
“This is one of the most painful issues in the history of the state of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The time has come for the families whose babies were taken from them receive recognition from the state and government of Israel, as well as financial compensation.”
Arriving from Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa after the establishment of Israel in 1948, many immigrants from Mizrahi, or the Middle East, were sent to transit camps in slums and largely marginalized by the European or Ashkenazi leaders of the founding Labor Party. This painful experience contributed to Mizrahi’s widespread support for the Likud party, now led by Netanyahu.
Among the immigrants were more than 50,000 Yemeni Jews, often poor and with large families. In the chaos that accompanied their influx, some children died while others were separated from their parents.
But many say the reality was much more sinister, that the establishment abducted these children for adoption by Ashkenazi families in the belief that they could give them a better life. In later years, families reported that they were mailed notices of military initiation and other documents for their allegedly “dead” children, raising further suspicions.
Three high-profile commissions dismissed the accusations and found that most of the children died of illness in the immigration camps. The latest, in 2001, said it was possible that some children were put up for adoption by individual social workers, but not as part of a national conspiracy. However, citing privacy laws, he ordered that the collected testimonies be sealed for 70 years.
Under Monday’s decision, the government will pay 150,000 shekels, or about $ 45,000, to families in cases where a child is determined to have died but the family was not duly notified or where the burial site was not found.
Families where the child’s fate is unknown will receive 200,000 shekels, or about $ 60,000.
In a statement, the government said it “expresses regret” and “acknowledges the suffering of the families.” But activist groups said the decision did not go far enough.
Amram, an advocacy group that has collected testimonies from some 800 affected families, said the decision did not include an apology and came without proper dialogue with the families.
“Without this component, a correction and healing process is not possible,” he said. “Amram repeatedly demands that the state of Israel take responsibility for the grave injustice.”
Rafi Shubeli of “Forum Achai”, an advocacy group representing dozens of families, accused the government of imposing a solution on the families and not accepting responsibility or saying who caused their suffering.
He also said that families who have not yet filed claims would not be able to seek compensation and accused the government of refusing to release documents related to the matter.
“Our fight will continue,” he said. “This issue is not going away.”