On the 5th May, 1998, I attended a rally held by the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization, at Gan HaAtzmaut (the Independence Gardens), in Jerusalem.
Present at the rally were some members of 1,500 families who suffered the kidnapping or “disappearance” of their children, each with a shocking story of their own. An emphasis was placed at the rally on those of the families that had arrived here during the “Magic Carpet” operation in the early years of the state that saw Jewish families from Yemen brought to Israel in the effort to increase the immigration of Diaspora Jews. Operation “Magic Carpet” was initiated in 1949, and is said to have brought approximately 50 thousand Yemenite Jews to Israel. In course of the operation, about 380 flights took place, by British and American planes. The flights left from Aden, the capital of Yemen. Most of the Yemenite Jews lived in different locations in Yemen, and went through many difficulties getting to Aden. There were families from Eastern European countries as well as the U.S. and South America (and most other countries where Jews immigrated to Israel from) who had also lost their sons and daughters under similar circumstances.
Present at the rally were Members of Knesset Rabbi Arieh Gamliel, Rabbi Benny Elon, Mudi Zandberg, David Tal, Hanan Porat, Prof. Avner Shaki, Marina Solodkin as well as such prominent Rabbis as Shlomo Korach, Dr. Nachum Rabinowitz, and Dr. Ratzon Arusi.
Rabbi Menachem Porush, who has publicly stated that he knows the identities of organizers of the kidnapping operation and those who carried it out, failed to appear at the rally.
Rabbi Yosef Ba-Gad showed up by surprise, as well as other important figures such as Yigal Yosef, mayor of Rosh-HaAyin, and a number of well-known Israeli singers,who came to show support.
Each of the speakers at the rally had their turn to speak at the rally. Fascinating speeches were given by Knesset Member Rabbi Benny Elon, Yitzhak Keren (the ex-policeman mentioned in part one of this series), Eddie Mor (who gave a long, emotional speech that had the audience on the edge of their seats ), as well as the mother of Shlomo Asulin. Shlomo Asulin was a student of Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, who was gunned down by Israeli security forces in the Yehud incident. Rabbi Meshulam’s wife was also present at the rally, although she didn’t speak in front of the audience. All speeches that were given spoke of the terrible crimes committed, and how everything possible should be done to bring families back together, and the guilty to justice.
It should be noted here that none of the prominent figures who made these statements have done anything concrete to advance either of these causes.
One interesting woman at the rally was Dora Vachnun, a 48 year old woman who lives in Haifa and had her sister taken from her nearly 42 years ago. After having a short conversation with Dora, I decided to stay in touch with her, pay her a visit, and set up an interview with her.
When I arrived at her house, I was surprised when she asked me if I’d like her mother, Esther Meshulam (no relation to Rabbi Uzi Meshulam) present as well. As a result, I first interviewed Dora, and then Esther, who arrived later on.
The Meshulam family (who had their name changed to Emeshulam, before they immigrated to Israel) immigrated from Istanbul, Turkey, around the beginning of 1950. Both Dora and Esther recalled the conditions they encountered upon their arrival in Israel. Although Dora’s father made a substantial income working on the Haifa docks, the conditions of any immigrant in Israel’s first years were not good. Esther recalls their situation being better than most immigrants of the period. Their family was the only one at the immigration camp to have a sink in their shack. Esther worked hard to make their shack look as cheerful as possible. She recalls how she cleaned the shack, how she painted it, put flowers there, and made it a wonderful living environment. “Anyone that would come into the shack would be surprised, and ask ‘this is supposed to be a shack? This looks like a villa!’ “, says Esther. Their family was financially secure and had no problem whatsoever providing for their children. Dora has two brothers.
Esther (E) Meshulam, now 73 years old, gave birth to Mazal (I.D. 5391242) on the 5th of January, 1956. On the 20th of September, 1956, Esther took Mazal outside for some fresh air, while going to buy meat and after a while she noticed Mazal seemed to be feeling a little ill, so she took her to a nearby doctor. The doctor wasn’t home at the time, so she took her daughter to another doctor, who also was not home. Esther then took Mazal to the Rambam Hospital. When she arrived, a doctor examined Mazal and said that she looked fine, and asked Esther why she had brought Mazal. Esther said that Mazal was not feeling well, and was a little pale. The doctor said that they would watch Mazal for a little while, and told Esther not to worry.
When Esther entered the ward to stay with Mazal, a nurse yelled at her, told her to leave, and said that the families aren’t permitted to stay with their babies.
Esther returned to their shack later in the afternoon, disturbed that she had left her baby alone. Her husband, Meir-Nissim, upon seeing her distress, told her not to worry, that he would go see Mazal. He arrived at Rambam Hospital around 4 in the afternoon. At the hospital, he was not permitted to enter the ward, but they took him to a window, where he was able to see the babies. He saw Mazal, who recognized him, and stretched her arms towards him. They didn’t let him take her at that point. But he was content with the fact that he had seen she was healthy. He returned to the shack and told Esther that Mazal was doing fine, and that she would probably be released that day or the day after.
It was 2-3 hours later when two men, who claimed to be policemen, appeared at the Emeshulam’s shack. They announced to the family that Mazal had died. The family was in shock. The parents cried all that night. The next day, the family arrived at the cemetery to see a “body” that was not identified by anyone and hurriedly buried. All that the family saw was a white sheet with something inside it, tied on both ends, and completely covered with blood. The family was petrified at the sight of the blood. Upon telling this, Esther broke out in tears.
Dora recalls how they have always wondered about the entire case. Their suspicions intensified after the entire issue of stolen children was raised. No one ever had the chance to see a body. One month after the “death” of Mazal, the family received a letter explaining that Mazal had died from a heart attack.
In the past few years, Dora has been doing everything she can to try and find her sister. She has turned to the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization. She speaks highly of their efforts to bring this issue to light. She turned to the Rambam Hospital, asking to see Mazal’s files. She was at first denied access to these files, but then her brother, Police Superintendent Yaakov Meshulam, turned to the courts, asking for an order to be allowed to see the files. After that, they got the permission to see the files.
The document that describes the disease states “For two days the girl has been sick with diarrhea and has been throwing up. She coughs a little as well. According to the mother, the girl became a little pale and cold. This has happened a few times before, and has passed”. Esther recalls that it wasn’t a serious condition, just a slight illness. Esther also mentioned that Mazal was not throwing up at all. Dora mentioned she wonders what possible connection there may be between a heart attack and diarrhea. The part intended for “previous diseases” is blank.
What is probably the most interesting document in this case is the burial certificate, numbered 12348. It states:
Name: Meshulam Mazal.
Address: Apartment 27 [of the immigration camp]
Age: 9 months. [to be accurate, it was 8 and a half]
Religious affiliation: Jewish.
Cause of death: Myocardio Infarction. [Heart attack]
Place of burial: Haifa.
The certifying Doctor: Garfel. [Signature]
Examiner of cause of death: [Blank]
Official signature: [Either a signature or just a tiny scribble]
Signature of the Health Ministry clerk: [Blank].
One interesting thing about this document is the fact that the certifying Doctor was Dr. Garfel. Garfel is said to have been involved in other cases where children have been stolen. Ora Shifris, spokeswoman for the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization recalls the case of a man in Jerusalem who had his brother stolen, and found it also involved Dr. Garfel, who worked in the children’s ward of Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.
Another interesting fact about this document is that both spaces which should contain the signatures of the examiner of cause of death, and the signature of the Health Ministry clerk (and possibly the official signature) were left blank. By law, both spaces should contain signatures.
Another interesting document I’ve found is the “Patient summary”, which contains details about Mazal, and the entry: “Diagnostic: Myocardiac”. The rest of the page, which is titled “Summary of disease” is surprisingly blank.
Dora lives in Haifa with her husband and those of her children who haven’t yet married and left the house. Dora has seven children: Moshe (13), David (16), Anna (17), Eli (25), Meir (26), Avigail (28) and Mazal (30).
Upon arriving at their house that morning, I was greeted warmly by Dora and her daughter Avigail. It was then that Dora asked me if she should call her mother over, and told me she lived a few houses away. Later on that day, some of her other children arrived. Moshe, an active child who stayed to hear the story again, despite the many times he’d heard it before (and who made sure to get in a comment whenever he could). Anna and David, who didn’t spend much time at home, arrived later on.
As Dora recalled the story, she made sure not to leave out a single detail about Mazal, the story of their immigration, and detailed explanations about everything down to how their family name was changed from Meshulam to Emeshulam before they came to Israel. She recalled how her mother returned to the shack that day of September 20th, 1956, in tears for having to leave her beloved Mazal at the hospital, away from her watchful eye. She recalled how her Dad then made sure to go see how Mazal was doing, and how he returned to the shack and reassured her mother. She recalled how the two “policemen” arrived at the shack and announced Mazal’s death and how her parents stayed up all night crying in the light of an oil-lamp, since they had no electricity in the immigration camp. She recalled being taken in by her neighbours, so as not to see the pain and anguish of her parents, how the “body” of her sister was buried hurriedly by two men who never identified themselves, and the terrible sight of the sheet completely covered with blood. Her trauma from this terrifying experience is evident. Dora still searches for her sister. She tries to get assistance from anyone that may be able to help. Dora comes from a family with an excellent reputation which has done much for the city of Haifa. Dora was given an “Outstanding Citizen” award by the Mayor of Haifa, Amram Mitznah. Dora and her brothers are well known in Haifa, and have received many honours, awards and commendations for all their family has done, and is still doing.
She told a number of amazing stories of her family in the early days, and all her parents sacrificed for the sake of the Zionist cause, to live in Israel.
How they came to build the country in it’s first days,and accepted whatever conditions they had to endure for this cause, even when that meant accepting any job they could find without complaining. How they believed it important for them to live in Israel. Dora told of the tough conditions in the immigration camps, with no electricity and only basic necessities. They lived in that shack in the immigration camp for nine years. The Meshulams are a proud family of good standing. During all the years after Mazal was taken from them, her father, Meir-Nissim, was terribly distressed, and spoke to everyone of the way she was taken from them. He spoke of how it was impossible that from such a common illness his baby could have died. This has haunted their family for nearly 42 years. Meir-Nissim passed away on September 11th, 1993, at the age of 73, without seeing his daughter for almost 37 years.
Esther spoke of the depth of her family’s pain and the devastation caused by the lies and the terrible scandal that went on back then, which was only discovered years later. How little children were torn from their families, while the horror-struck parents were told that their child had died in some terrible way. Esther and her family were never given a death-certificate for Mazal. Esther hopes and prays that she will find Mazal soon, as thousands of other families still do. She also recalled their immigration years, and their Zionist family. She told of her life back in Istanbul, and their arrival at the “Selniks-Sha’ar Aliyah” (immigration entrance) immigration camp. Esther is worried since she hears stories of how some of the parents that have adopted the stolen children were told the original parents had forsaken their children, and so passed this on to the children. This concept is too much for Esther to bear. “Maybe they told her that we ‘ threw her to the dogs’ “, says Esther. Dora finds it hard to cope with the fact that Mazal was taken because Esther cared for her so much and was doing everything she could to ensure her daughter’s health.
Esther has lived with this trauma her entire life. It’s impossible to imagine how much this has affected her both emotionally and physically. Esther lives with pills she takes every three hours. Esther recalls how much her husband cried for their daughter, and how the pain was so intense. She recalls the support the family received from friends. Friends that “feel their loss, share their pain, cry their tears…Mazal should be with us now. She’s 42 now, and should be sitting right here, beside me”.
One of the most shocking moments of the interview was hearing Dora and Esther speaking of the burial. They spoke of how they couldn’t even get close to the “body” being buried, that was covered with blood. They began to speculate where all the blood came from, and what was buried. “Maybe they slaughtered a chicken”, Dora said. “Maybe they took a dead dog, and buried that”, Esther said. As much as one can “prepare” oneself to hear these stories, these are the moments that are hardest to cope with.
At one point, Dora went to the home of a doctor Zeltzer, who she remembers worked in the children’s ward in the Rambam Hospital. She thought that maybe he could give her some answers, since he was one of the older doctors working there then. Zeltzer, although still alive, is an ill man. Dora waited at his home until he returned. When he arrived, she questioned him. Zeltzer then told her he’d been through a stroke, and due to the damage caused by the stroke he can’t recall many details from his past, as well as anything connected to these cases.
Dora remembers a few doctors that worked in the ward then, including Zeltzer and a doctor Bender-Lee, who she said is still alive, and living in Haifa. Dora is sure that the doctors know of what happened and can give details, but that there is a plot to keep everyone silent, and these horrible crimes swept neatly under the carpet.
In many of the cases, swept under the “Magic Carpet”.
This is one of the things that disturbs the families terribly, especially since the mainstream press is, for all practical purposes, still ignoring the issue.
Dora and Esther speak of how parents have gotten old and died without seeing their children since they were taken. This is why everything should be done immediately to bring the families together. All Esther, and many other parents like her, would like to do before they pass away is to find their child, to see them if only once, to hold their child, to tell her “Mazal, we did not forsake you!”, as her daughter may have been told. They turn to people in the government for assistance. These people, who have done nothing serious enough to bring results, have betrayed the trust these families have placed in them, have forsaken the loving parents and families of these children, and thousands of other parents and families. Mazal’s father has already passed away, but her mother would give anything just to see her again.
I have them in piles beside me. Documents. Interviews with Dora and Esther. Audio and video tapes. One case. One case out of thousands like it. Thousands of tragic stories that won’t go away. These crimes cannot be “swept neatly under the carpet”. There are too many families in terrible pain to allow that to happen.
To make an understatement, this was not what the families were expecting when they immigrated to Israel.
These families have not forsaken their children. Nor have they abandoned hope of seeing them again.
No human being of conscience can abandon them… especially not Jews of conscience.