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Latest to Criticize Israel’s Scroll Hunt: Religious Jews

November 28, 1993

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s search in the occupied West Bank for Dead Sea scrolls, already attacked by Palestinians as last-minute plundering, now faces opposition from a different quarter - ultra-religious Jews.

Several hundred demonstrators stoned cars and burned trash in Jerusalem’s religious Mea Shearim neighborhood Saturday night to protest what they claim was the unearthing of Jewish graves.

″The (religious) public is hot on this subject,″ said Benny Rabinowitz, a spokesman for the ultra-religious Atra Kadisha activist group organizing protests.

Further demonstrations were planned in Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Jericho, where the search operation is focused, Rabinowitz said.

Police detained two rioters after Saturday’s protest in which bus windshields were smashed. An Israel Antiquities Authority van was found torched in the area Sunday, Israel radio reported.

The Antiquities Authority’s ″Operation Scroll″ has yet to meet its aim of unearthing further Dead Sea scrolls, writings of the Essene Jewish sect that existed at the time of Christ.

But it has uncovered jewelry, pottery, artifacts and papyrus connected to a 2nd-century Jewish revolt against Roman rule.

The finding that sparked religious Jewish anger was the skeleton of a soldier buried with his bow and arrow in a cave north of Jericho.

Archaeologists say the soldier lived 5,000 years ago, during the Canaanite period, 2,000 years before Jewish settlement of the region. Atra Kadisha insists he was a Jewish soldier from the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom that existed around 200 B.C.

″A Hasmonean soldier that died in battle is also a nice Jewish boy,″ said Avraham Ravitz, an ultra-religious lawmaker. He said it was likely other Hasmonean graves were in the Jericho area.

Orthodox Jewish belief forbids the unearthing of graves, as it may disturb the rising of bones that is prophesied in the Book of Ezekiel to coincide with the coming of the Messiah.

It was the latest turn in the controversy over the Israeli rush to find more scrolls and artifacts before ceding territory to the Palestinians.

Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists have criticized the operation, saying it flaunts the spirit of the recent Israel-PLO accord on Palestinian self-rule.

Israel signed a U.N. convention in 1954 that forbids excavation and removal of ″cultural artifacts″ by foreign occupiers.

Rabinowitz said he looked forward to Palestinian control of the territory.

″I have no doubt that Arabs in Jericho will protect the graves better than the Antiquities Authority,″ he said. ″It’s only in Israel they don’t protect Jewish graves.″

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