July 20th, 2018
Section of the Classified Catalogue at Israel State Archives' website.
Availability of government archive catalogues: important progress at the Israel State Archives

On July 19, the Israel State Archives (ISA) posted to its website a significant part of the file catalogue the ISA refers to as “the classified catalogue”, containing about 250,000 titles. This completes the current phase of opening the ISA catalogue for public use. [more]

Archival record catalogues are critical for users in any archives. Without an accessible catalogue it is impossible to know what records are kept in the archive and what records it is missing. Access to a catalogue means the ability to discover sealed records are kept in the archive and demand their declassification.

The ISA divides archival records into “classified” and “unclassified” according to internal guidelines that do not stem from the Archives Law and the Access Regulations. The law and the regulations provide criteria for giving public access to archival material regardless of whether or not it was classified at the time it was produced. However, based on these internal criteria, the ISA has created internal catalogues of “classified” and “unclassified” materials.

Over the past year, there has been a marked improvement in access to ISA catalogues. In November 2017, the ISA posted to its website the “unclassified” catalogue, and two months ago, it posted a small portion of the “classified” catalogue – records deposited by the Prime Minister’s Office only. As mentioned above, the ISA recently completed posting about 250,000 out of some 300,000 record titles comprising the “classified catalogue”. The remaining titles are not expected to be posted at this stage.

The “classified catalogue” is not available to the public as a single unit, but as separate files (including excel files), containing the lists broken down by record-groups (depositors) and record sub-groups. The portion of the catalogue publicly released in July includes, among others, records deposited by the Israel Police, the Israel Prison Service, the Ministry of Justice and the Natural Gas Authority. These archival records, like many others, have a significant and multi-faceted social and public value.

The publication of the “classified catalogue” does not mean the records themselves are accessible to the public. According to a statement made by Chief State Archivist Dr. Yaakov Lozowick, at this stage, the ISA is not ready to open the records listed in the “classified catalogue” for public access. Still, this last development does help locate previously unknown closed files and ask for their declassification under the Archives Law and Access Regulations.

Hopefully, an increase in requests for declassification would encourage the ISA to develop solutions. It may also drive home the urgent need to expand the ISA’s declassification mechanism and make it suitable for the archive’s main mission – Providing the public access to archival records stored in government archives, in particular, archival materials that are past their Restricted Access Period under the Access Regulations.