Editorial |

Israel's Past Belongs to the Public

For the country's 70th anniversary, the government should do the right thing and make it the default to open up archives, not conceal them

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Workers at one of the State Archive offices in Jerusalem.
Workers at one of the State Archive offices in Jerusalem. Credit: Michal Fattal
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

The government’s decision to open the archives of documents concerning the aliyah of Jews from Morocco in the 1950s to the public is praiseworthy. It joins a previous decision that was successfully implemented last year to make available the documents concerning the missing Yemenite children.

In both cases, it has been proven there was no reason whatsoever for not making the documents fully accessible to the public. The government should do the right thing in the future and not just respond to requests from the public, as a result of protests or the broadcast of a television series, and initiate on its own an all-encompassing process of opening up archival materials that have been gathering dust on the shelves for decades.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is right when she said, “There is no reason that material about the country’s history is not revealed.” The State Archives and the archives of the Israel Defense Forces, police and Shin Bet security service (to which access is completely blocked, as reported by Ofer Aderet and Jonathan Lis in Haaretz on March 11) contain valuable historical materials that could well shed light on selected chapters in the history of Israel. But in many cases, for reasons that are not relevant, they are closed to the public.

Under the guise of “security,” the excuses of “privacy” or the lack of manpower needed to release the documents, some of the archives prefer, or are forced, to arbitrarily and unreasonably conceal information from the public. This is true about the racist statements of politicians about citizens, surveillance carried out by the Shin Bet on Jews who were suspected of “subversion,” and embarrassing decisions that politicians and leaders made on assorted matters.

This tendency is even more acute when it comes to archival materials related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even if it possible, under certain circumstances, to justify partial censorship of the archival material on sensitive matters, what justification can there be for concealing documents from the War of Independence and the censorship of sections of documents from the Six-Day War?

For the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, the government would be doing the right thing if it made an across-the-board decision to open up archives – not just about the absorption of Moroccan Jews but also in a large number of other affairs. It is enough to mention just a few examples such as the massacres at Deir Yassin in 1948 and Kafr Qasem in 1956, documents concerning which have been concealed by the government even though they occurred decades ago and the public has an interest in their release.

The State Archives, under outgoing State Archivist Dr. Yaakov Lozowick, has undergone a digital revolution in recent years, allowing it to make huge amounts of documents available to the public in a user-friendly and efficient manner. To complete this revolution, the government must adapt the “archive regulations” to the spirit of the age so the default for any archival document will be to release it, not conceal it from the public.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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