On the 9th of January, 1996, the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Acharonot” reported the following: “… A surprising development in the issue of the governmental committee for the research of the missing children: A private investigator, involved in the actions of the Shalgi committee, who investigated this case in the past, was recently questioned by the police, on the suspicion that he has suppressed evidence and witness testimony, and intimidated witnesses from testifying who were supposed to appear before the governmental committee currently in session and didn’t.
The complaint that has been filed against A., the private investigator, a resident of Jerusalem, was filed by one of the governmental committee members….” The article goes on to state that: “It should be noted that A., who is considered an exceptionally skilled private investigator, and received many praises for his actions in aiding the Shalgi committee, and his work was said to be ‘devoted and skilled’. The investigator, A., refused to comment yesterday, as long as it is still under police investigation.”
The day I read this, I called a friend who has devoted his life to researching this subject and who prefers to stay anonymous, to ask him who “A.” is. The answer was: “A.? That’s Ami Chovav, didn’t you know?”.
It was then that I recalled certain suspicions different members of the community hurt by this whole issue had voiced about Ami Chovav.
It was about a month and a half later that Ami Chovav finally responded to a journalist for the “HaAretz” newspaper, Yigal Mashiach. The article was published in “HaAretz”, of the 16th of Febuary, 1996 following media coverage which Chovav had received that week.
As the article reports, on Tuesday of the previous week he appeared on the “Erev Chadash” newsshow, on channel one, was interviewed on channel 2, for the five o’clock news, and later on that night, on the “Chasifa” show, also on Channel 2. The article reports Ami Chovav repeatedly used the same words in all interviews, “as a welltrained actor, repeating a well learned, memorised text”.
Ami Chovav was a member of the first investigation committee, headed by Yosef Bahalul, and Reuven Minkovski, and was an official investigator for the second committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Moshe Shalgi.
Chovav was interviewed concerning the allegations that were current then, that medical experiments were conducted on Yemenite children hospitalized during the 1950s.
Chovav was also interviewed, on Sunday of that week, on the “Mabat Sheni” news show, on Channel 1. There, he attempted to discredit any talk about children being stolen from their parents.
Ami Chovav began investigating this case in 1966 at the time when families with children who were reported dead as infants began receiving military summons for drafting into the Israeli Defense Forces. Chovav says he went to the Defense Ministry to try and find out how such a thing could have happened. He reports that the answer he received was that everything was a mistake. He was told that when the Defense Ministry received information on the new immigrants from the Immigration Department of the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Interior forgot to report the death of the infants to the Ministry of Defense, and so, the summons reached the families. Chovav says that that answer was more than enough for him, since he immediately understood it was simply a mistake in the reporting of deaths. When Chovav was asked who the people he got that answer from were, he says he “doesn’t remember”. The reader should note that this was an official government investigator, on an official government investigation.
Chovav recalls that he was first chosen to investigate the case, since he is a Yemenite, and has a past in the Military Intelligence.
Ami Chovav’s final conclusions, regarding the fate of thousands of missing children was, as first claimed, that the children had died in the hospitals.
Moshe Sharabi, living in New York, speaks of his disappointment in Ami Chovav after Chovav’s visit to New York, where he addressed members of the Yemenite Jewish community. According to Sharabi, Ami Chovav has deceived the entire Yemenite and Jewish community. He also says it is impossible that Chovav has reached such definite and complete answers for the disappearance of so many children.
Chovav has been working on the case ever since it first came up, even before a government committee was formed. There was a public committee formed in 1966 that he worked for as well, and afterwards, in ’67, the government formed a committee to look into the matter, with two Ministers to supervise the committee, which were Sampson Shapira, the Minister of Justice, and Eliahu Sasson, who was Chief of Police. Chovav was appointed to this committee.
Chovav also claims that many of the disappearances of the children can be explained by the fact that when a child was sent to the hospital, it was done with no written records, and thus many children were taken from their families with no one knowing to whom the child belonged. When the family wasn’t found, the child was sent to the WIZO institute, and then, to adoption.
Chovav’s findings point to the fact that hundreds of children were sent to WIZO institutes, and while some were returned to their parents, most were put up for adoption.
However, when speaking of numbers, one important thing Ami Chovav was quoted as saying in the “HaAretz” article was “It is possible that there are parents that have had children disappear, and didn’t mention it to anyone. For instance, after the Bahalul-Minkovski committee, other parents showed up, that haven’t mentioned anything to the committee.” Another astounding fact is that the Shalgi committee, three years after it began its work, reported it was in a crisis. It had hundreds of individual cases it was unable to solve, there was no cooperation by the police, and after three years of work, it had found solutions for only twenty two of the cases. After Chovav joined the committee, it was reported that in the next two years, Chovav managed to solve all the remaining cases on his own.
Chovav reports that many of the children were taken to hospitals, and their parents were not allowed to see them, since there was the fear of contagious diseases.
In connection to a previous article in this series, three different witnesses, according to Yigal Mashiach, have said that they saw Ami Chovav speaking to Sonia Millstein, the nurse mentioned in Part Four of this series of articles, during her testimony in front of the Cohen committee. Mashiach also says that, according to these three different people, Chovav was guiding Millstein in what to say in her testimony. Haim Giat, also mentioned in Part Four, who testified that Millstein lied to his uncle and aunt, telling them their child was dead, and after they made a lot of noise, returned their child to them, has filed a complaint against Chovav with the police stating that Chovav tried to convince him not to testify. This is in addition to the fact that Yehuda Cohen, head of the Cohen committee, filed a complaint against Chovav with the police stating that Chovav intimidated witnesses from testifying and suppressed witness testimony, even though Ami Chovav had no formal connection with the Cohen committee.
It is also evident that in Chovav’s interview with Yigal Mashiach, whenever he was asked something that raised certain questions about what actually happened, his response was that he “couldn’t remember”.
One thing, strangely enough, that Chovav did not do, in all of his years of research, was open graves and search for body remains. When he was asked why some graves were found empty, Chovav said that the bones were probably washed away in floods and such. He claims that even the head of the “Chevra Kadisha” (Israeli burial authority) told him that, in the early 1950’s, they would not dig very deep graves. When Chovav was asked the name of the head of the “Chevra Kadisha”, he claimed he “couldn’t remember”.
One of the people who Chovav reportedly attempted to intimidate from testifying is Menachem Chatucha. Chovav’s response to hearing this particular accusation was that all he did was tell him he had no need to testify, since he knows where Chatucha’s brother is buried.
One of the reasons claimed by Chovav that a body was never seen and a grave site was not specified in many of the cases is, to quote, “… The child that died would be sent to the institute of pathology. Many were sent. It was for a humanitarian cause, for advancing medical research. I do not see anything wrong with that at all.” When he was asked about permission from the family to do such a thing, he answered “In many of the cases, they did not know who the child belonged to, or where it came from. When there was a family, they didn’t want to show it the body.
Once the autopsy was completed, the body would be completely dismembered. Were they supposed to show that to a religious parent? The refrigeration compartment would eventually fill up, and then they called the Chevera Kadisha to come and bury all the body parts.” He added, regarding the pathological institute not telling the parents anything, “I asked them. They said it wasn’t their job, it was the hospital’s job. But the hospital did not always know who the child belonged to….”
One example of a reason for this that was given by Chovav: “In one case, the children were taken in the ambulance in cardboard boxes, since they weren’t going to put babies on stretchers. On that specific trip, they put notes with the children’s names on top of the boxes. The wind blew all the notes away. That is how the children were brought to the hospital.”
One man who spoke against Ami Chovav was Yigal Yosef, head of the Rosh HaAyin city council. Yosef was a member of the Shalgi committee, and when the committee finished working, he refused to sign its final report.
Yosef mentions that Ami Chovav is “working for someone.” He says that “All that interested Chovav was to get everything done with as quickly as possible. He worked in the Shalgi committee like he worked in the Bahalul-Minkovski committee, without even checking the authenticity of the documents. His main concern was to close cases.” He adds, later on “… I do know he was very enthusiastic to get cases closed. From the moment he began working for the committee, everything worked out for them. I have a very serious problem with the methods he used, especially regarding the WIZO institutes. Why wasn’t the committee looking for the children who were sent to the WIZO institutes? After all, Chovav claims they were sent to WIZO for adoption because of names being confused, because they weren’t able to find the parents, so why weren’t they looking for all of those that were given up for adoption through WIZO? Why did the committee concentrate on the dead, and not the living?”
To add to what Yosef said, this should have been especially crucial, since the committee did not check any graves, only the death certificates that were unverified. There were many cases where death certificates were issued and the children were found alive later, and other cases where death certificates were found, but never the bodies of the children The readers should remember the report in Part One in this series, where Yehuda Cohen and the committee found a cache of presigned blank birth and death certificates in the country’s archives with the help of Yehudit Hivner, a retired highranking Interior Ministry official, who was unable to provide answers to many of the committee’s questions, and denied the allegations that she supposedly had lists of the children that disappeared in the 1950’s. It is obvious that a presigned death certificate does not point to anything definite in these cases….
Yosef also states that the reason the infants were listed as deceased was to “make them anonymous, so they could be easily sold for adoption.”
Yosef also mentions that Chovav was hired for the committee by Moshe Shalgi, and he himself had nothing to do with it. Yosef says “It seems like Chovav was hired to obstruct our work. It is part of that same suspicion that causes everyone to question him. He was rushing, obsessively, to every event that had anything to do with the missing children, as if he did not finish his job of quieting things, on behalf of highranking forces in the government.”
As said before, it should have been the job of the committee to open graves, and at least verify the death certificates. To this date, none of the three different committees has done anything of the sort. When Moshe Shalgi was asked why they did not open graves, he answered “The committee’s mandate was to look into the fate of the missing children, not to go into questions beyond that, like the behavior patterns of that time, or the treatment of the Yemenites.”
There are many people who were not satisfied by this answer.
Again, it is extremely important to remember that the cases of missing children range through many of the different ethnic groups of Jewish immigrants, probably all, and that the Yemenites were most definitely not the only ones against whom such crimes were committed, although it is often the Yemenites that take drastic measures to bring the issue to public attention. It is notable that the issue of stolen babies has become stigmatic of the Yemenite community, and is only referred to as “The case of the stolen Yemenite children”, or “The Yemenite children issue”, and so has been kept from public scrutiny, as people have come to see it as a “Yemenite problem”.
A strange comment by Moshe Shalgi was that “Ami Chovav is not a representative of the committee in any way or form. He speaks enthusiastically, but only for himself.” This comment is strange, since Shalgi also was said to have worked hard to hire Chovav himself, and has supported his work all the way. He has even admitted that “I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I recommended he get the job of the investigator, thanks to the experience he had gained in the Bahalul-Minkovski committee….”
All in all, Ami Chovav is a controversial figure, and many people do not know what to think of him.
The readers of this article now have some of the facts, and can draw their own conclusions.