The public right of access to archival materials was enshrined in Israeli Archives Law in 1955. The Access Regulations, which set the conditions for such access, were approved in 1966.
Archives Law, 1955
The government and public archives in the Israel are regulated by The Archives Law and its accompanying regulations. The law constitutes a legal, administrative and professional framework for managing the state’s archive system. It determines principles for treating the documents and documentation preserved in other government and public archives throughout the country: principles regarding the handling of documents by government ministries and state institutions, their transfer to the archive, registration, supervision and maintenance, duplication and destruction. The law also determines the existence of several institutions that are responsible for carrying out its directives, chief among them are the Israel State Archive and the State Archivist.
The Archives Law determines the guiding rule regarding public access to materials in the archives. “Every person is authorized to view the archive material stored in the ISA” and states that restrictions on this rule will be determined in the regulations.
Archives Regulations (Access to archived materials held in the Archive), 2010
The Access Regulations instruct access to archival records kept in the ISA and its divisions, the other government archives. Among other things, they determine Restricted Access Periods (RAPs) for archival materials in accordance with their type and sources, as well as regulations for granting access to these materials (a process known as declassification) during the RAP.
The default Restricted Access Period for all archival material is 15 years, which begins when the archival record is created. Additionally, the First Supplement to the Access Regulations prescribes longer RAPs in accordance with the type of record and its source. These vary between 20 years (for example, the protocols of confidential Knesset committee meetings) to 70 years (for example, raw intelligence materials, materials from specific security organizations listed in the Access Regulations’ Second Supplement, etc.) The restricted access periods are not periods of complete confidentiality, and do not in and of themselves prevent the declassification of archival materials found within the restricted access period, should someone request access to it. The Access Regulations specify that each request should be examined on its merits, according to the considerations listed in the regulations, which include historical and research importance as well as public interest in the materials whose declassification was requested, as well as the number of years already passed since the records were created, relative to the prescribed restricted access period.
The current version of the Access Regulations adopted the spirit and much of the procedures of the Israeli Freedom of Information Law. These include timelines for responding to access requests; the list of protected interests that may prevent public access to certain materials; considerations the authority should make when deciding on an access request and the alternatives to complete prohibition on such access. In addition to adoption of the Freedom of Information principles to the current version of the Access Regulations, the fact that the government archives are public institutions whose entire purpose is to preserve public information and make it accessible to the public also serves as evidence of the relevance of the these principles to their operation.
Archives Regulations (conditions for authorizing Public Archives and regulations for their management), 1957 define the conditions for declaring an archive “public”, as defined by section 18 (b) of the Archives Law. As opposed to the government archives, which are all part of the ISA, the archives declared “public” are private bodies whose mission and objectives are deemed by the State Archivist to be of public interest, granting public access to their records in accordance with the Access Regulations and confirming their budgetary and managerial foundation is professional and secure. The Regulations determine managerial procedures for the Public Archives (including a committee for coordinating the operations of directors of Public Archives) as well as the State Archivist’s supervisory role over them and the records they hold.
Archives Regulations (transfer of archival materials to custody), 1958 outline regulations for receiving archival materials into custody by the ISA, whether received from a state institution or municipal authority, or from a private entity or person. The regulations determine that any custody agreement between the ISA and the owners of private material must specify the guidelines for access, use and duplication.
1982 Archive Regulations (Fees) determine the kinds of fees imposed on the duplication of various kinds of archival documentation, and empowers the State Archivist to calculate duplication fees for audio-visual records and other special materials as well as to exempt those who request to duplicate specific types of archival materials.
Archives Regulations (destruction of archival records in state institutions and municipal authorities), 1986 determine procedures for destruction of documentation found in government institutions. The First Supplement to these regulations includes hundreds of types of records common in the operations of various state institutions (“routine records”) and the periods for their preservation, after which the regulations allow for their destruction – under the supervision and documentation of the State Archivist, as specified. The regulations also provide a procedure for the destruction of documentation that is not included in the list of “routine records,” including State Archivist’s authorization and the process of public consultation on the destruction.
Archives Regulations (preservation and destruction of courts’ and religious courts’ files), 1986 determine procedures for destruction of the documentation held by courts and religious courts, including the obligation of notification to the public and consultation with the State Archivist on destruction of such materials and the right of the public to oppose it. The regulations specify (in the Supplement) the number of years every type of court record must be preserved before it can be destroyed. The Supplement specifies permanent or long-term (100 years) preservation periods for certain records, generally those related to serious offenses or familial or marital affairs.