Reprinted from The National
It is Israel's darkest secret -- or so argues one Israeli journalist -- in a country whose short history is replete with dark episodes.
Last month Tzachi Hanegbi, minister for national security, became the first government official to admit that hundreds of babies had been stolen from their mothers in the years immediately following Israel's creation in 1948. In truth, the number is more likely to be in the thousands.
For nearly seven decades, successive governments -- and three public inquiries -- denied there had been any wrongdoing. They concluded that almost all the missing babies had died, victims of a chaotic time when Israel was absorbing tens of thousands of new Jewish immigrants.
But as more and more families came forward -- lately aided by social media -- to reveal their suffering, the official story sounded increasingly implausible.
Although many mothers were told their babies had died during or shortly after delivery, they were never shown a body or grave, and no death certificate was ever issued. Others had their babies snatched from their arms by nurses who berated them for having more children than they could properly care for.
According to campaigners, as many as 8,000 babies were seized from their families in the state's first years and either sold or handed over to childless Jewish couples in Israel and abroad. To many, it sounds suspiciously like child trafficking.
A few of the children have been reunited with their biological families, but the vast majority are simply unaware they were ever taken. Strict Israeli privacy laws mean it is near-impossible for them to see official files that might reveal their clandestine adoption.
Did Israeli hospitals and welfare organizations act on their own or connive with state bodies? It is unclear. But it is hard to imagine such mass abductions could have occurred without officials at the very least turning a blind eye.
Testimonies indicate that lawmakers, health ministry staff, and senior judges knew of these practices at the time. And the decision to place all documents relating to the children under lock until 2071 hints at a cover-up.
Mr Hanegbi, who was given the task of re-examining the classified material by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been evasive on the question of official involvement. "We may never know," he has said.