Empty graves support tales of stolen Yemenite kids

JERUSALEM — Israeli investigators who opened several graves of Yemenite babies reportedly found them empty, giving possible support to claims by members of Israel's Yemenite community that the children were given away for illegal adoption in the early years of the Jewish state. Israel Television reported Saturday that four graves in Tel Aviv's Kiryat Shaul Cemetery were opened Aug. 13 with a rabbi and family members present.

All of the children believed to be buried in the graves had been hospitalized when they were a few months old. Their parents never saw them again: They were told the children died while in the hospital.

Three of the graves examined last week were empty; bone remains were found in the fourth.

Members of Israel's Yemenite community have charged for years that hundreds of babies said to be dead were actually given to adoptive parents of European descent.

If true, the charges could further damage already strained relations between Israel's Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities.

Last week's exhumations were inconclusive. A forensic examiner quoted in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot said it could not be stated with certainty that the graves contained no bones until a thorough examination is conducted.

Tales of missing children are so widespread in Israel's Yemenite community that two government commissions have investigated the allegations.

The two commissions looked into the cases of 643 missing Yemenite children and found that 542 died, four were adopted and 87 could not be accounted for.

The panels attributed the disappearances to the chaos of mass immigration in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Approximately 45,000 Yemenite Jews immigrated to Israel during that time.

Leaders of the Yemenite community dismissed the findings as a whitewash.