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>Israel Faxx
>PD Dec. 19, 1996, Vol. 4, No. 230

Israelis Reach For Roots

The number of newly-observant Jews (ba'alei teshuva) in Israel has grown by 30% in the past year. According to figures released by the Ministry of Religions in its budget proposal for the coming year, 6150 adult students are studying Jewish law and custom in institutions for beginners, up from 4800 six months ago. These figures include women, whose numbers rose from 1900 to 2450.

East Jerusalem Construction Canceled

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli officials indicate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will order a long-term delay in a controversial plan to build a new Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The project just last week had received preliminary approval from a planning board.

Israel's interior minister says he will continue to process the paperwork for the project, but will consult with Netanyahu before granting final approval when the papers are ready in a few months.

An Israeli official says Netanyahu will likely tell the minister to put the project on hold, in order to avoid creating what the official calls "unnecessary friction" with the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials call the plan for 132 apartments in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood a provocation. They note that Netanyahu's decision to open an archeological tunnel in east Jerusalem's Old City in September sparked Palestinian riots.

The Israeli official, who requested anonymity, says Israel maintains it has the absolute right to do anything it wants in Jerusalem, including the city's eastern sector, which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed. But the official says Israel does not need to re-emphasize its rights at the possible cost of creating a confrontation with the Palestinians and damaging the peace process.

The official says that is particularly true since the project is privately funded and was not part of any government plan. Still, the official says, Israel will hold open the option of allowing the apartments to be built someday.

That last comment is likely to keep Palestinian concern focused on this issue, but most of the official's comments seemed aimed at easing tension with the Palestinians. Last week, tensions were particularly high over this issue, as well as the killing of an Israeli woman and her son, and Israel's response -- new financial incentives for West Bank settlements.

On Wednesday, settlers marked the end of the week of mourning for the shooting victims by laying the cornerstone for a new neighborhood on a hill just outside their home settlement, Beit El. But the potentially provocative move appeared to be largely symbolic because the government has refused to authorize the construction of such a neighborhood.

Rare Vertical Graves Found in Jerusalem, Perhaps Essene

A cluster of 49 vertical graves, dug in a special way, has been found in rescue excavations by the Antiquities Authority at Beit Safafa, south of Jerusalem. They raise the possibility that this was a graveyard for the Essene community during the period of the Second Temple.

The cemetery spreads south of Nahal Refaim and the graves are very close to each other and very similar, representing chalk shafts 2.5 meters deep. Two of them were of two levels. The gravestones had been stolen. About 30 meters south of the site, two caves with burial cells were found. Human bones and remains of skulls were found in the grave, apparently characteristic of the Jewish population. The researchers think they date from the time of the Second Temple up to the Bar Kochba rebellion, due to the glass vessels, a small bottle and a bangle from Roman times found at the spot.

More than 800 caves with burial cells from the Second Temple era have been studied in the Jerusalem district, but upright graves are rare, and greatly resemble the graves in the Qumran sector, thought to be of the Essene community, leading to the conclusion that they also had a presence in Jerusalem.

Silver Rings of the "Wise Goddess of War"

A treasure trove of about 30 rings, 11 in tetrahedron shape in silver from the Persian era, has been found in an excavation by the Antiquities Authority near the marina on the Herzliya Mediterranean shore. Archaeologists think this was an industrial area in the fourth and fifth centuries before the Common Era. The rings were excellently preserved and on one side stamped with the image of the Greek goddess Athena, patron of Athens and regarded as the goddess of wisdom and of "wise wars."

Other artifacts found at the side include a lead image similar to the Egyptian style, four furnaces for baking ceramics and a large quantity of ceramic vessels and small jugs, brought there from Greece. The Antiquities Authority and the Herzliya municipality have decided to place the reconditioned furnaces along the marina promenade.

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