Israel offers compensation to families of missing children

JERUSALEM (AP) — On Monday the Israeli government accepted a deal to provide compensation for $50 million for hundreds of Yemeni children who vanished in the early years of the country's founding.

However, the statement was welcomed by rights organizations who said the government did not apologise or take blame.

For years, reports of the lost children have been circulating in Israel.

Hundreds of newborn babies and young children of Arabian and Balkan Jewish refugees, most of them from Yemen, mysteriously vanished shortly after arriving.

Many families claim that their children have been taken away and released to childless European backgrounds in both Israel and abroad.

While previous investigations have denied reports of mass abductions, concerns have continued and have led to a long-standing defect between the Jews of European origin and those of the Middle East.

"This is one of the most painful things in the State of Israel history," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The time has come for families whose children have been taken away to receive recognition and financial compensation by the state and the government of Israel."

After Israel's establishment in 1948, refugees came from Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa and were sent to shantytown transit camps, largely sidelined by European or Ashkenazi leaders of the founding Labor Party.

This traumatic experience has helped Mizrahi, now headed by Netanyahu, to support the Likud party.

There were more than 50,000 refugees from Yemen, mostly poor and with big families.

Few children died during the confusion that followed their influx, while others were separated from their kin.

Many people however say the truth was much more dangerous than that the state abducted these children to give them a decent life for adoption by Ashkenazi families.

In later years, families reported mailing their apparently "dead," military induction advisories and other records, raising further suspicions.

Three high-profile panels refuted arguments and found that most children in immigration camps died of illness.

The final report, in 2001, suggested that certain infants could have been turned over by private social workers for adoption, but not as part of national conspiracy.

However, it ordered the testimony it obtained to be locked for 70 years, citing privacy rules.

The government is going to pay the families, under Monday's ruling, 150,000 shekels or around $45,000 in situations in which an infant has been identified but the family has not been adequately informed or where the burial site has not been located.

Families where the child's fate is uncertain earn 200,000 shekels or about 60,000 dollars.

The government claimed in a statement that it "expresses regret" and "recognizes families' sorrows;" however, environmental groups said that the decision did not go far enough.

Amram, a campaign organization with testimony gathered from over 800 impacted families, said that the verdict did not contain a complaint and was made without adequate dialog with the families.

"A process of correction and healing is not possible without this component," he said.

"Amram repeatedly calls on the State of Israel to take responsibility for serious injustice."

The government has been accused by Rafi Shubeli of the "Forum Achai," a lawyer for thousands of families, of forcing a solution on families and not taking blame or of telling who caused their distress.

He also said that families without claimants were not eligible to obtain compensation and accused the government of refusing to reveal any information relating to the case.

"Our war is going to continue," he said. "It's not going to go anywhere.