ESHHAR, March 30, 1998, Root & Branch: Most parents whose children were kidnapped by hospital staff and infant care workers were told that their children died (with no death certificate or other proof of death given) and were never shown graves. This part of my series deals with those parents who were shown graves.

Parents of kidnapped children made many attempts to check the “graves” of their “dead” children. The “Mishkan Ohalim” organization filmed a secret operation it conducted on August 13, 1997, where members dug up four of these “graves” at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetary. The film was broadcast a week later on Channel One News.

The film shows the “graves” as they are being dug up. In each case the “grave” is empty. The “graves” had allegedly contained the remains of four children: Ruti Babu, Ruti Cohen, Moshe Mishraki and Reuven Refaelov.

The parents of these children and “Mishkan Ohalim” representatives came to the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery together with cemetary manager Avraham Finkelstein and with Rabbi Yaakov Rujah, district religious adviser on burial matters.

I interviewed one of the “Mishkan Ohalim” representatives who was present when the “graves” were opened. He told me that they went to extreme lengths, including the use of a strainer, to search for bones. This was shown on the film. No bones were found.

Mrs. Ruti Refaelov, whose son Reuven was allegedly buried at the cemetary, states on the film: “The child isn’t here, there’s just sand, and nothing more.”

In each case the stories were identical. Parents were told that their children had been sick and had died.

The issue was reported on Israel Radio as follows:

“Four families of Yemenite origin have discovered that the graves in which their babies were supposedly buried forty years ago are empty. Israel TV’s Channel 1 filmed the opening of the graves at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery and broadcast it last night. Yemenite activists have been claiming for years that hundreds of babies who were declared dead were actually put up for adoption. The graves were opened last Wednesday as part of the official investigation. A rabbi and family members were present. A wooden sign over the graves bore the names Ruti Babu, Ruti Cohen, Reuven Refaelov and Moshe Mishraki. A spokesman for the families said this was proof of a planned fraud in which funerals were staged and evidence falsified. Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani has expressed his shock at the discovery of the empty graves. Kahalani is of Yemenite origin. He said that he shared the families’ grief and noted that families had feared all along that their children had disappeared and not died as they were told. He said he was confident that the commission investigating the missing children would bring the truth to light.” (Kol Israel August 17, 1997).

This Israel State Radio report falsely stated that all the children were Yemenite. The Cohen family comes from Iraq. The State Radio report also falsely stated that Israel TV’s Channel 1 filmed the opening of the graves.The film was made by the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization.

Public Security Minister Kahalani has since done nothing to advance inquiries into this case. Regarding Kahalani’s remarks about his confidence in the government commission, it was the third government commission established to investigate this matter, and it was closed down at the end of December, 1997. The commission chairman was retired Israeli Supreme Court Judge Yehuda Cohen. The other two commission members were retired Judge Dalia Kobel and Bridagier General David Maimon.

As with the two previous Israel government commissions of inquiry, the Bahalul-Minkovski (first) and Shalgo commissions (second), the Cohen commission gathered information but did nothing beyond that.

The only positive purpose served by these commissions was to bring people involved in this sad story together. In some cases, parents were able to find their kidnapped children as a result.

The only response these fortunate parents received from the committees was a “case closed” letter congratulating them for finding their children, and notifying them that the commission was finished taking their testimony. These cases received no press coverage. No notification was made to the public. It my belief, as a journalist who attended commission hearings and who researches this issue, that the Israel Government commissions are participating in a cover up of the truth regarding the kidnapped children.

Unlike Public Security Minister Kahalani, there is one politician who continues to speak out publicly on this issue. He is Meretz Knesset member Ran Cohen. Following the August 17, 1997, cemetary expose, MK Cohen asked commission chairman Yehuda Cohen to assist any family which wants to open the grave of a “deceased” child. He asked that the State pay for opening these graves, as well as genetic testing of any bones that might be found. MK Cohen also asked the government’s legal advisor to initiate a police investigation of criminal activities related to the disappearance of the children.

Both the commission and the government legal advisor disregarded all of Ran Cohen’s requests. Most people are unaware of the fact that, as MK Cohen told me, his family comes from Iraq and that two of his relatives were among the missing children. MK Cohen did not name the two relatives.

Perhaps one of them is Ruti Cohen’s missing daughter, whose empty grave was opened that August day. I raise this question because MK Cohen began to show an interest in this case after the August expose, the family names are identical and both are from Iraq. There is even a resemblance between MK Cohen and Ruti Cohen’s father Aaron.

Aaron Cohen and his family were interviewed the day after the cemetary dig by the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Acharonot.” The interview carried the headline, “They told us she died, but the grave is empty.”

Aaron Cohen was quoted in the story as saying “They told us she died, but that’s a lie. The grave is empty, she isn’t there. She is alive, alive, alive!” Mr. Cohen dug into the grave with his own hands, about one meter deep, felt the soil, and found nothing at all. The family cannot forget their daughter, and the thought she might be still alive won’t leave them.”

“The family came to Israel from Iraq, in 1951. The family reports that their daughter was two months old when the incident occurred, on the 26th of January, 1954. The mother says that the daughter began coughing one night, and the mother noticed she had a little fever. She took the daughter to a doctor the next day, and was told to take her to the Hadassah Hospital, in Tel Aviv. She gave her daughter to a nurse there at 1 P.M., and was then asked to leave. By 3 P.M. the family was called and told the girl was dead, and that they should not come to the funeral, because they [the hospital] would bury her themselves.”

“The mother was only 17 years old at the time this happened. Ever since the daughter’s death, the family has been going to the Interior Affairs Ministry, and asking for a death certificate. The family was told their daughter does not even exist in the population records. The family’s two other daughters, Shuli and Rachel, have invested much time and effort in attempting to secure some sort of official document which would enable them to clear up what happened over 43 years ago.”

“July of ’97 was their first success in getting any sort of document. Shuli was able to get a death certificate which was sent with no date on it and various other details omitted. She went to them [ the Interior Ministry ] again, telling them of this problem, and was then given a completed death certificate, dated, with all the other details that had been missing.”

The “Miskhan Ohalim” operation in August, 1997, was not the only time an attempt was made to dig up graves. Prior to that a series of articles appeared in the “Yom LeYom” newspaper, by the journalists Yehuda Yisraelov and Shmuel Amrani. These two journalists have done an amazing job of gathering testimony and evidence about the case.

One such story is that of Bracha Zugier, the daughter of Shalom and Sarah Zugier. Bracha’s older sister Yehudit gave the testimony. As with many other cases, this one occured in the immigrant camp at Rosh HaAyin.

When Bracha was about 7 months old she was sent to the Tel-HaShomer Hospital with minor gum problems. Soon after, the hospital notified the Zugier family that Bracha died.

In this case the Zugiers were told to collect the body from the hospital.

When several family members came to the hospital they were given a suitcase. The Zugiers were warned not to open the suitcase under any circumstances, but to bury it immediately. They were told that Bracha’s body was in the suitcase, and that she had a dangerous contagious disease.

The Zugiers were told that there was no need for a death certificate, or for any other kind of certificate. They should simply bury Bracha right away.

Bracha’s sister Yehudit, who gave the testimony on which this account is based, was a curious eight year old girl at the time. She saw the suitcase on a table in a room, opened it, and found a doll inside on a pile of straw.

Yehudit called her mother, telling her that she found a doll in the suitcase. Yehudit’s mother ran into the room, yelled at Yehudit for opening the suitcase, and closed it immediately, without noticing what was in the suitcase. Her mother could not imagine what was so obvious to the eight year old girl, that the suitcase contained nothing but a doll. She could not believe that the hospital lied to her about Bracha’s death.

Eight year old Yehudit did not realize the implications of her discovery.

The suitcase with the doll in it was buried in the Rosh HaAyin Cemetery.

Today, Yehudit is still sure that she saw a doll, not her sister Bracha.

As the years passed, Yehudit continued to tell her family what she saw in the suitcase at the hospital. Her family began to believe that Yehudit was telling the truth, but did not know what to do about it.

They began to receive mail for Bracha, including army draft notices and election registration forms. Interior Affairs Ministry and Population Registry office records indicated that Bracha was still alive.

When they received no response to her draft notices, army representatives came to look for Bracha, thinking she was avoiding her army service.

Bracha’s father Shalom told the soldiers: “Look as much as hard as you can. Maybe you’ll have some luck finding her.”

Shalom died a few months ago. Yehudit repeatedly asked him for years to testify before the government commissions. He told his daughter: “And all those who appeared before the commissions, what good did it do them?”

Based on my research and interviews with families whose children disappeared, I believe that thousands of parents will not testify before the government commissions because they believe that their testimony will not make any difference.

Two years before Bracha was stolen from the Zugier family, they came close to losing their son Shimon, who is alive and well today. At that time the family were new immigrants in Israel, and lived near Rosh HaAyin.

Yehudit recalls: “Every day, nurses would walk around the camp, looking for children they could take to the baby homes for one reason or another.

One nurse walked up to my mother and said: ‘Your child looks ill, he needs vitamins.’ Shimon, then about 3 years old, was taken to an infant care center approximately half a kilometer away from where we lived.”

“My father and I, when I was 6 years old, would go to the infant care center every day to visit Shimon, and Mom would sometimes come too. Dad would go in, and show Shimon to me through a window. One afternoon when we came they told my father not to go in. Daddy picked me up so I could look through the window. I told him Shimon’s bed was empty. Daddy attempted to go in again and they told him that Shimon died.”

“Daddy was surprised. ‘He was healthy this morning.’ He again, requested to enter, and they said: ‘You can’t go in there – it’s dangerous, you’ll catch a disease.’ Daddy was a strong man and did not give up. He forced the door open and went in. The doctor grabbed him, but Daddy pushed the doctor and went inside anyway, looking for Shimon. The hospital staff tried to stop him, but he continued from room to room, looking for Shimon.”

“I heard screams from inside the building. I was a personal witness to this entire story. Daddy found Shimon, alive and well. The hospital staff attempted to block his way out, so Daddy broke a window and jumped out holding Shimon.”

“The same day policemen came to our house to return ‘sick’ Shimon to the infant care center. Daddy raised havoc and yelled: ‘I’ll kill you all if it takes, but nobody’s taking my son.’ They told him: ‘Your son is sick, you’re going to die.’ Daddy responded: ‘Don’t worry about me’.”

This story is almost identical to one I heard recently from relatives of a personal friend. My sources wish to remain anonymous. Their story is told by a woman, today a grandmother, the sister of a man who as a baby was almost stolen in the same way.

This family immigrated to Israel from Tripoli, Libya, in the early 1950s. They lived in an Israeli immigration camp. One day, the family’s youngest child, a several month old baby, was taken to an infant care center.

The family visited him almost every day. The baby’s mother arrived at the entrance to the child care center, and was told that her baby has died, and that she should leave. The mother insisted on seeing a body, but was told the body was already taken away. She forced her way into the center, despite staff efforts to stop her, and ran to her baby’s room. She found him in his regular bed.

The mother grabbed her baby, refused to let go, and began to scream. Fearing a confrontation, the child care center staff let her go.

Families who found their “dead” children in immigration camp child care centers were fortunate. When the children “died” in regular hospitals, there was no way the families get their children back. A personal acquaintance of mine told me what happened to his brother at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

The story of the Jerby family, also immigrants from Tripoli, Lybia, is told by two brothers whom I have known for many years. The brothers, Ya’acov and Tzion Jerby, both recall how they lost their baby brother Mordechai.

Mordechai got sick and was taken from the immigration camp to Rambam Hospital. Their father regularly went to Haifa to visit Mordechai. One day the doctors told him that Mordechai had recovered, and that he would be released from the hospital in two days.

When the father returned to the hospital two days later, he was told that Mordechai had died. He asked when Mordechai died and from what cause.

The doctors gave him no answer. The father received no death certificate, nor was it told where Mordechai was buried. The family was planning to testify before the Cohen commission, which was closed down at the end of December 1997.

So many incidents occurred at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital that it acquired the nickname of the “Mengele Hospital” and “The Jewish Treblinka”. However, Rambam was not the only hospital where immigrant children “died.”

The “Yom LeYom” article also describes the report on Channel One’s “Mabat Sheni” news program, about Leora Lebkowitz, a journalist who used underground radar technology imported from the United States to check the graves. Ms. Lebkowitz conduced her tests in several cemetaries, and the results were simply unbelievable. Many of the graves were empty. Many tombstones had no graves beneath them. In the Pardes Hannah cemetery over 15 tombstones were found with no graves underneath.

In Part Four of this series, you will learn about how these crimes were, and continue to be, covered up, and how the public is encouraged to forget about them. You will also learn about some of the individuals actively participating in this coverup.