In the 1960s, several Yemenite immigrants to Israel began to suspect that their infant children—who had been reported dead shortly after their arrival in the country some fifteen years earlier—were indeed alive. Since the children had died in hospitals when the parents were not present, and the parents never saw the bodies, they thought it possible that Israeli officials had secretly put the babies up for adoption with more Western, Ashkenazi families. The ensuing scandal led to three separate formal investigations, with the first beginning in 1967 and the last concluding in 2001. Most of the children could be accounted for, and there was no evidence of unauthorized adoptions. More recently, the Israeli State Archives made public all the information available on the affair. Yaakov Lozowick, the archives’ director at the time, reveals what was discovered:
There are no documents that tell or even hint at a governmental policy of kidnapping children for adoption. Not one. Had there been such a practice, there would by necessity be hundreds or thousands of elderly dark-skinned Israelis who grew up in light-skinned families in the 1950s and 60s. These people don’t exist. . . .
The stubborn staying power of the Yemenite kidnapped babies story comes from emotions, not historical data. There [are no such data], and never were—which is why opening thousands of files never made a dent. . . . Yet many family members will admit, at least in private, that what they are seeking is not evidence of kidnapping but closure for the deaths of their loved ones. They want to see a grave, not a scanned image of a Xeroxed copy of a list of graves from the 1970s. They want explanations for the demeaning behavior of arrogant medical staff and bureaucrats who brushed them off, and otherwise treated them as inferiors, or at least as bothersome.
If you assume—as I’m inclined to do—that the overworked staff trying to deal with a tsunami of immigrants in a poor country were normal people, and sometimes even idealists, it is also easy to imagine the callousness, and obtuseness, and even contempt, with which the young parents were fobbed off. Some of it can be explained by pressure, some by prejudice. And some, perhaps, by the need indeed to hide a secret—just not the one the activists seek.
[T]here is circumstantial evidence that many of the deceased infants had autopsies performed on them [a procedure strictly forbidden in Jewish law in the absence of extenuating circumstances]. The medical staff was distressed by the high death rate, which was especially high among the Yemenites, and they sought explanations. The body of an infant after an autopsy has been performed is not something one wishes to show grieving parents, certainly not religious parents from an undeveloped country who don’t speak any of your languages, and who never gave their permission for the bodies of their dead children to be cut open.
There was no crime, but there was a sin. All sides were unfamiliar to each other and overwhelmed, in different ways, by their circumstances. Those in power did their best, with scant resources—and scant regard for the emotions of the immigrants they were tasked with helping. The immigrants were also doing their best.