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Israel State Archives Lose Documents on Missing Yemenite Children Affair

The Israel State Archives lost a computer with documents related to the missing Yemenite children affair, and there is fear that the information that was kept on it will not be released to the public as required, a state comptroller report released on Tuesday revealed. The report also states that other material in the affair, which was supposed to be preserved in the archive facility, was left open on a table in a hallway of the archive offices, contrary to the rules.

Moreover, additional mistakes in the archive activity, related to confidential information security and the release of non-confidential information to the public, were not fixed during the three years since the state comptroller issued warnings in his previous report.

The state archive received a computer 22 years ago that served the state commission of inquiry into the affair about missing Yemenite children, known as the Cohen-Kedmi Commission. The comptroller discovered that the computer was later loaned to one of the archive employees "without filling in details that enable follow-up," and it was never returned. "For unclear reasons, the archive did not save the computer content after it was deposited there.

Consequently, 22 years after the archive was entrusted with the computer, there is concern that the documents and the data of the commission that were saved on the computer were lost with it, and will not be released to the public, as required according to the government decision," the report states.

When staff from the State Comptroller's Office visited the state archives in Jerusalem, they were surprised to discover that other material related to activities of the state commission of inquiry – audiovisual archival material – was in an open container on a table in a hallway and not in a storage facility as the rules require.

In addition, it was discovered that 138 files from the archives that had been lent to staff who at this point are no longer employed there had not been returned.

One section of the report relates to the State Comptroller's Office's examination of whether shortcomings noted in a 2020 report had been corrected. It was found that they had not.

The Israel State Archives and other public and private archives were still found to have classified material that was not subject to the required security oversight. In some instances, archive staff had not gone through security screening, a lapse that "could expose classified material to parties who are not authorized to have it," the report said. On the other hand, at some of the archives, the Defense Ministry's security authority works to prevent the disclosure of classified material that could harm state security.

There were also unaddressed shortcomings relating to the public's access to unclassified material. As of the end of 2022, the comptroller's office found more than 79,000 files at the state archives that should have been made public but hadn't been. The situation was even more serious at the Israel Defense Forces archive, where the comptroller determined that roughly 1.1 million files to which the public should have access had not been made public, as of September 2023.

The latest report does not mention the most serious problem at the state archives. Since November, following a cyberattack, it has been impossible to search the archive online. That issue will undoubtedly be examined in the comptroller's next report.

The Israel State Archives has not yet responded to the comptroller's report.

Ofer Aderet