40 Years On |

State Blocking Publication of Yom Kippur Documents

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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Forty years after the Yom Kippur War, the state is still blocking publication of many documents related to the government’s conduct before, during and after that war.

The Israel State Archives in Jerusalem contain classified minutes from 1973 of cabinet meetings and meetings of the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs. For months, the archives staff has been busy locating, sorting and preparing to publish many of these documents, which have never before been published. It had hoped to release them this week.

But by law, the documents’ release requires the consent of the Prime Minister’s Office, which is in charge of the archives. And this week, the archives informed Haaretz that such consent had not been forthcoming.

The Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz that by law, these documents can be published only 50 years after the war, meaning in another 10 years. Though some documents are subject to shorter waiting periods, regulations promulgated under the Archives Law state that “minutes and stenographic records of meetings of the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs or of the cabinet sitting as the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs” can only be published 50 years later.

Yet a closer look at these regulations, which were last amended in 2010, shows that the government is authorized to deviate from this rule and release documents earlier under certain circumstances. “The depositor, in consultation with the archivist, is permitted to release limited quantities of material for which the specified time period hasn’t yet elapsed ... at the applicant’s request,” the regulations state. “The depositor” referred to here is the government, while “the applicant” can be a journalist, researcher or even the general public — anyone with an interest in this material being published.

The regulations detail the circumstances under which material can be published early, which include “historical, academic or public interest in the material.” They also allow classified documents to be published with certain details omitted or altered, if publication of these details could harm national security or the country’s foreign relations.

The archives, backed by the Prime Minister’s Office, have generally adopted a policy of greater transparency in recent years. As a result, many classified documents have been released for publication.

Last year, for instance, the archives published dozens of documents relating to the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, including the minutes of classified cabinet meetings. But even in this case, the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t authorize publication of all the material.

Nevertheless, its refusal to allow publication of documents from the Yom Kippur War is particularly surprising and suspicious, since many other state archives did release classified material on the war in advance of its 40th anniversary.

This month, for instance, the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Establishment Archives published the full testimony of witnesses who appeared before the Agranat Commission, which investigated the war after it ended. These archives are technically subordinate to the Israel State Archives, but in practice are run by the Defense Ministry. Even these archives, however, haven’t yet released all the available relevant material.

The fact that some classified material relating to the war has been released over the years stems from differences in when it was written, who wrote it, where it was stored and what kind of document it was. All of these affect when it can be published. The minutes of classified Knesset committee meetings, for instance, can be published after 20 years, while stenographic records of some cabinet meetings and some ministerial committee meetings can be published after 30 years. The longest time limit, 70 years, is for material from the intelligence agencies.

IDF soldiers in the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War. Certain aspects of the war were predicted during the simulation.Credit: Zev Spektor
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Soldiers evacuating an injured comrade during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.Credit: Nachum Guttman
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Haim Bar-Lev and Sharon, 1973Credit: GPO
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An illustrative image from the Yom Kippur War, October 1973.Credit: IDF Spokesman’s Office