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Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan families protest 1950s alleged kidnappings
‘State must admit a crime was committed’
Amram Association activists and families will gather in Paris Square opposite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house on Wednesday in a rally for the Awareness Day of the kidnapping of Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan children more than 70 years ago.
In the early years of the State of Israel, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of babies and toddlers were taken from their immigrant families. While the families came from different regions, their testimonies were the same: parents were asked to give their children to hospitals and daycare facilities under the pretext that they would receive “more appropriate care.”
The Amram Association, responsible for marking the day of awareness, stated on their website that sometimes children were violently taken by social workers or nurses and forcibly transferred to these institutions. Parents were not allowed to stay with their children nor could they visit them.
A few days later, the parents were told that their children died, but were not allowed to visit their graves and were not allowed to take their child to be buried, and no proof of death was ever found.
Parents pressed the state for information, which eventually led the state to conduct inquiries about these cases. The committees determined that most of the babies died or were unaccounted for, therefore their whereabouts were unknown.
For 70 years, the information and materials concerning so many deaths remained confidential. Today, parents and grandparents continue to seek justice and redress.
At Wednesday’s rally, families will read testimonies of the kidnappings and call on the State of Israel to admit what happened to their children, said Tom Mehager, an activist for Amram Association.
“Our goal is for the state to recognize their responsibility for the separation between children and their families,” Mehager said. “We [parents and activists] want a formal recognition that a crime was committed.”
According to Mehager, this is the fourth protest that has occurred where families go to “the state” and share their testimony about what happened when they took the children. He says they demand the truth.
“People still deserve an answer about what happened,” Mehager said. “You hear so many people ask questions about where their families went, and what really happened to them. It is an open wound in Israel.”
In fact, after the children had allegedly died, many were found years later in the arms of other families. According to Shlomi Hatuka, Amram Association CEO, there are stories of children who went missing and of adults who discovered they were adopted, and are trying to find their biological parents.
“We already know today that committees admitted that children who were supposed to be dead were actually alive,” Hatuka said. “They were taken from hospitals, and there was even evidence of trafficking by some doctors.”
One committee that attempted to expose the truth was one established by the late Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, to whom the awareness day is dedicated. His official committee attempted to publish their findings in 2001, according to Amram Association’s website, but was silenced by a gag order from the state.
“The purpose of this protest is to pressure the government to take responsibility for the kidnapping of these kids,” Hatuka said. “The issue is that we need to imagine what will happen when, for the first time, the State of Israel admits it committed a crime.”
The Israeli government would have to own up to the fact that they committed a “wrongdoing” based on their perception of others due to race, Hatuka said. He mentioned that Mizrahi men and women were perceived as dangerous, dirty and unfit to care for children, thus “justifying” nurses to take their children away to other facilities.
“Maybe the government doesn’t want to admit this because they will not be seen as perfect,” Hatuka said. “States are not perfect. The government not admitting to the crime is only prolonging the crime itself.”