JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In a landmark development in the saga of Yemenite children who disappeared during the early years of the state, Israel’s Health Ministry says it will open the grave of a baby who died in 1952 next week. The goal of the exhumation is to confirm to the boy’s surviving family that he is really buried there.
Since the outset of the state, the controversial disappearances of Yemenite children after they were placed in hospitals, some for minor ailments, have led to claims that they were kidnapped in the early years of the state.
The child to be exhumed, Uziel Houri, is buried in Segula cemetery in Petah Tikvah. Five families related to Houri requested and received a court order permitting the exhumation.
According to state records, Houri was born in 1952 and died a year later of illness. Ministry authorities are scheduled to open the grave on Monday next week and take a DNA sample from the remains for the purpose of establishing family authentication, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said it was acting under a law passed four years ago that permits opening a grave in order to carry out genetic testing to determine family ties. The ministry added that it was acting “out of a desire to reach the truth and to remove suspicions of the families regarding the identity of their loved ones.”
Under an agreement between the Houri family and state authorities, the DNA sampling will be done at the state-operated Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, though an expert on behalf of the families will also be present, the Walla news website reported.
Mazel Barako, Houri’s sister, welcomed the development, telling Walla News that it was “good news after years of upheaval from the state.” However Barako added that she did not trust the state investigation since the families were not allowed to conduct their own DNA tests.
“I must admit that even if they say that it is my brother I won’t believe the results of the investigation,” she said.
The affair, involving the disappearance of more than 1,000 children, mainly from Yemen but also from other Sefardic locales, has been the subject of numerous committees of investigation over the last 50 years. The committees established that in almost all the cases the children had indeed died of disease in the immigration camps where they were located. The most recent inquiry, in 2001, said it was possible that some children were handed over for adoption by individual social workers, but not as part of a national conspiracy. However, citing privacy laws, it ordered the testimonies it collected to be sealed for 70 years.
In February 2021, the previous government approved a NIS 162 million (almost $50 million) compensation program over the issue of the Yemenite children.
The proposal included a declaration that “the government of Israel regrets the events that happened in the early days of the state and recognizes the suffering of families whose children were part of this painful issue.”
However, a number of families involved demanded that the government reveal confidential documents relating to the matter, calling the compensation plan “hush money.”