The new Israel State Archive (ISA) website went live today, making scanned archival materials available to the public online. The move is accompanied by and conditioned upon the closure of the reading room in the ISA’s physical location in Jerusalem. This will result in denial of access to important archival materials that are up until now were publically accessible.
At this point, only about 2% of the materials deposited in the ISA will be uploaded to the website, but access to the physical files and documents will cease. The website will become the only channel for accessing the archival material. One of the implications of this is that many documents that are now accessible to the public (as per legal requirements and after having been cleared by the competent officials) will be sealed because of sensitivity to broad publication. Others will be deemed unfit for publication and will not be made accessible to begin with. Moreover, because once on the website, the archival material would be considered a publication, the Military Censorship would have jurisdiction to examine it and would act as another filter on top of existing screening and declassification mechanisms.
And so, the move that was meant to increase public access to archival materials will, in fact, deny access to many of the most important and valuable documents stored in the Israel State Archives; one step forward, two steps back.
This does not have to be case. National archives in other countries that are in the process of digitization have not closed their reading rooms or blocked access to paper copies of documents. In Israel, the State Archivist has initiated this process away from the public eye and without any consultation with the public at large, archive users or the Supreme Council of Archives.
The State Archivist’s decision is met with growing public effort to reverse the course toward the elimination of physical access to archival material. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has written to the State Archivist, demanding access to hard copies of the material continues (here, in Hebrew). Researchers from various universities have also organized to issue a joint call (English), and documentary filmmakers are doing the same. We are happy for the digitization process in the Israel State Archive; we oppose the move towards halting access to the archival materials.