Israel said Monday it will compensate families whose children were taken from their parents in the early years after the state was founded, in a major development in the so-called “stolen babies” affair.
Activists and family members have for decades charged that up to several thousand babies were taken in the years after Israel gained statehood in 1948, mainly from Jewish Yemenite families, but also from immigrants of other Arab and Balkan nations.
They allege the babies were stolen and given to Jewish families of Western origin in Israel and even abroad, mainly those who could not have children themselves.
In a statement, the government expressed “regret over the events that occurred in the early days of the state and recognises the suffering of the families whose children were part of this painful affair”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the statement called it “among the painful affairs” in Israel’s history.
“The time has come for the families whose infants were taken from them to receive recognition by the State and Government of Israel, and financial compensation as well,” he said.
Yemenite activists have charged that hundreds of babies declared dead by doctors were actually abducted for adoption by Jewish couples of European origin.
They say the babies went missing from camps set up to host Yemenites and Jews arriving from other Arab countries in the early 1950s.
Doctors at the camps told them their children had died, but refused to hand over bodies or death certificates, according to the families.
Finance Minister Israel Katz said an official investigation on the matter “has yet to be concluded”, but that the ordeal had been “seared into the annals of the state”.
The cabinet approved a total of 162 million shekels ($50 million) in compensation.
Families for whom the fate of the taken child remains officially unknown will received 200,000 shekels.
A second category of victims, including those for whom the taken baby’s place of burial is unknown, will receive 150,000 shekels.
The affair has put a spotlight on intra-Jewish racism, with Jews of European origin traditionally held up as Israel’s elite and those from elsewhere alleging discrimination.
A first state committee to examine the claims was formed in 1967.
Subsequent inquiries sought to establish the number of babies that went missing and determine culpability, but activists disputed some of the findings.
In 2016, Israel’s national archive announced the launch of an online database of 200,000 documents aimed at establishing the facts surrounding the decades-old allegations.