The state is conducting formal direct negotiations with family representatives of children who went missing in the 1950s Yemenite Children Affair, according to a report aired by Israeli News Broadcasting Corporation Kan on Wednesday night.
The negotiations, led by Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Bureau Yoav Horowitz, concern the state’s recognition of the injustice done to the families and its responsibility in the affair.
The affair concerns the mysterious disappearance of hundreds of babies and toddlers of Mizrahi descent, mainly from Yemen, during the early days after the establishment of the state, between 1948 and 1954.
In the vast majority of cases, parents were told in the hospital that their newborn baby had died, though they never received any official confirmation.
Over the years, families have claimed that their children were in fact systematically kidnapped and given away or sold off to Ashkenazi families without the consent of the biological families..
According to the Kan report, the negotiations are in an advanced stage but a stumbling block is the issue of compensation, a demand of the families which has not been met by the state.
If an agreement is reached, Kan reported that the state will recognize the injustice done to the families, despite the fact that previous government commissions concluded the majority of the children had died in hospital and that the state was not responsible for what happened to the children.
Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he had no comment on the matter “at the present moment.”
Top officials from the Justice Ministry are also said to be involved in the talks.
An agreement would mark a turning point in the controversy, which has remained unresolved for for almost 70 years.
One year ago, Israel for the first time released some 400,000 pages of documents related to the fate of the missing children.
“It is difficult to believe that for almost 70 years, people did not know what happened to their children,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time. “And as difficult as the reality may be, we are not willing for this to continue.”
The documents are those that three inquiry committees had at their disposal over the years in investigating the case of the missing children – in 1967, 1988, and 1995.
In June 2017, Netanyahu appointed Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to reexamine the evidence in the three previous inquiries, and in November 2017 the cabinet decided to release the classified documents. This decision overturned a 2001 decision to seal the documents until 2071.
The archives opened some 3,500 case files which contained original background materials collected by the committees, including hospital records, death certificates, photos and personal testimonies.
Despite the massive amount of documents released, the majority of families still did not receive closure or new information regarding the whereabouts of their lost family members. Still, the opening of the case files was hailed as a major win and a step forward toward acknowledgment of the affair.
Herb Keinon and Lidar Gravé-Lazi contributed to this report.