July 3, 2018

Recently uncovered Jewish Revolt coin shows rebels aware of impending disaster

A rare bronze coin from the fourth year of the Great Jewish Revolt was recently discovered in excavations in the City of David National Park. A testament to the final days of the rebellion against the Romans, the coin was minted shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

Symbolically, the coin was rediscovered on the eve of the 17th of Tammuz, the commencement of the three weeks commemorating the conquest by the Romans of Jerusalem and the Temple’s destruction. The three-week mourning period culminates on Tish B’av, considered the saddest day of the Jewish calendar.

In the first few years of the rebellion which lasted from 66-70 CE, coins inscribed in First Temple paleo-Hebrew lettering sounded the battle cry, “For the Freedom of Zion.” Illustrating the rebels’ waning confidence, Year Four coins (69-70 CE) are inscribed with the words, “For the Redemption of Zion.”

“The difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘redemption’ expresses the change occurring in the rebels’ subconscious, and the reality of those days,” said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Eli Shukron, who is leading the City of David excavation.

Year Four coins are also decorated with Jewish symbols. In the case of this coin, the four plant species associated with the pilgrim holiday of Sukkot — palm, myrtle, citron and willow. Others depict a chalice that may have been used by priests in the temple.

The coin was discovered during the recent systematic inspection of a bucket of dirt taken from a 600-meter drainage ditch which runs under Rehov Hagai, the main road for pilgrims ascending to the Second Temple.

The ditch, uncovered in 2007, is the largest in the underground system. It is currently part of the City of David National Park and runs from the Robinson’s Arch archaeological garden, under the Ophel excavations, to an area just north of the Silwan Pool, next to the valley.

According to the writings of Yosef Ben Matityahu, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, some 2,000 rebels were killed by Romans while hiding in drainage ditches. Archaeological finds back up Josephus’s claim: Whole cooking pots, coins, and even a Roman sword of the era have been uncovered in the system of underground drainage ditches.

Shukron suspects rebels hid in this drainage ditch in the last days prior to the fall of the city to the Romans.

“It’s possible that this coin, which was placed in the pocket of a Jerusalemite hiding from the Romans in underground warrens,” said Shukron, “or maybe it rolled into the drainage ditch while the coin’s owner walked the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.”

The coin was uncovered during wet sifting by a volunteer at the City of David Sifting Project located near the Mount of Olives in Emek Tzurim.

In March 2018, a rare hoard of Year Four bronze Jewish Revolt coins discovered at the recently renewed Ophel excavations was publicized. While discoveries of single coins occur somewhat frequently, this trove of dozens of bronze coins, uncovered in a cave just south of the Temple Mount by Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, is exceptional.

Mazar called the cave a “time capsule” of Jewish life during the revolt. Indicating that rebels hid in the cave from the Romans are a number of Second Temple period finds: the Year Four coins and broken pottery vessels, including jars and cooking pots.

Until today, most discovered Jewish Revolt coins are dated to Year Two. “The small amount of coins minted in the third year, and almost a complete lack of coins from the fourth year, indicates that most of the country was re-conquered by the Roman army fairly soon after the beginning of the revolt,” writes Robert Deutsch in his 2017 “The Coinage of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, 66-73 C.E.”

According to Deutsch, the bronze coins of the second and third years “are abundant and negligently manufactured.” The fourth year coins, however, “are of a slightly higher quality.”

A recently published essay in the journal Israel Numismatic Research, “The Coin Finds from the 1968–1969 Excavations at Herodium,” writes, “the hoarded bronze coins dating to ‘year four’ were found around and quite close to Jerusalem. This accords with the historic situation whereby at that time much of the country was captured by the Romans and only Jerusalem was still under rebel control.”

Almost exactly 50 years ago, the first excavations in the united capital following the 1967 Six Day War took place near Robinson’s Arch abutting the Western Wall. There, a large hoard of Year Four coins was discovered by Prof. Benjamin Mazar, Eilat Mazar’s grandfather.



Gazans breach border, set fire to army post; IDF opens fire, killing one

Israeli troops opened fire at four Palestinians who breached the southern Gaza security fence and set fire to an empty Israel Defense Forces post on Monday, killing one of them, the army said.

According to the military, the four Palestinian youths broke through the fence east of Rafah in the southern Strip and set fire to a sniper’s nest near the border.

“IDF troops spotted the infiltration and monitored the incident. The troops chased after the terrorists, during which time they opened fire at them,” the army said.

“As a result of the gunfire, one terrorist was killed, another was critically injured and was taken for medical treatment, and one was handed over to security forces for interrogation,” the IDF said in a statement.

According to Palestinian media, one of the suspects made it back to the Gaza Strip. He was taken to a nearby hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said.

During the chase after the suspects, the soldiers reported hearing gunshots fired at them, the army said.

The Shehab news outlet, which is affiliated with the Hamas terror group, reported that the shots were fired by members of Palestinian terrorist groups in the area.

No Israeli injuries were reported.

The IDF accused Hamas, which rules Gaza, of being behind the border breach and others that have occurred recently, in which Palestinians have set fire to Israeli military positions and the equipment being used to construct an underground barrier around the Strip to counter attack tunnels.

“Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in the Strip and that emanates from it, and it is behind the attempted border breaches and the damage to security infrastructure. The IDF takes these incidents seriously and will continue to respond to them harshly and aggressively,” the military said.

The security fence east of Rafah has seen a number of similar cases in recent weeks.

Last Thursday, an IDF tank fired at two Palestinian teenagers whom the army said were trying to infiltrate into Israel from Rafah. One of the teens, Abdel Fattah Abu Azoum, 17, was wounded and died of his head injury several hours later. The other Palestinian suspect was also reportedly injured by the tank fire.

The security situation along the restive Gaza border has been especially tense in recent weeks, owing to a number of significant clashes between the Israeli military and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, notably Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave.

In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.

However, Hamas has maintained that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.

“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.

The Israeli military has also carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.



Knesset passes law freezing PA funding over terror payouts

The Knesset voted into law on Monday a bill to slash funds to the Palestinian Authority by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.

The bipartisan law passed by 87 to 15.

The law’s backers said the legislation would send a message to Palestinians that terror does not pay.

“The PA turned itself into a factory that employees murderers [of] Jews mostly but also Muslims, Christians, Druze, Circassians, and others, including tourists,” said co-sponsor MK Avi Dichter (Likud), who leads the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

He said the law is meant to send a “moral and principled message” that Israel will not assist in sending money to terrorists, as well as cause the PA to rethink its policy of “encouraging terror.”

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who also cosponsored the law, said similar legislation in the US, known as the Tayor Force Act, had prompted the Israeli bill.

“We must stop the economic inventive the Palestinian Authority provides to terrorists, an incentive that encourages others to commit terror,” said Stern. “Every Palestinian youth will understand it doesn’t pay to choose the path of terror.”

The bill says that welfare payments paid out by the PA to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives, as well as the families of slain attackers, must be deducted from tax revenues Israel transfers annually to the administrative body. The money withheld in this way would instead go into a fund designated to help victims of terror attacks.

Last week, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee gave its approval for a final plenary vote on the bill, rejecting a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the top-level security cabinet the final say on whether to “freeze” the payments that would have given ministers the ability to effectively opt out of it.

In a clear act of defiance, lawmakers rejected the motion, voting instead to go ahead with a plenary vote on the original version of the law.

Declaring bipartisan support for the tougher version of the bill, lawmakers from both the coalition and opposition railed against the government’s request for the power to override the measure, saying that including such a clause in the legislation would render it useless.

Under the current law, based on the 1994 Oslo Accords that established the PA and the mechanism for Israeli funding, the finance minister already has the ability to freeze funds.

The measure aims to cut hundreds of millions of shekels from tax revenues transferred to the PA.

According to the Defense Ministry, the PA in 2017 paid NIS 687 million ($198 million) to the so-called “martyrs’ families fund” and NIS 550 million ($160 million) to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club — some 7 percent of its overall budget.

Palestinian prisoners serving 20- to 30-year sentences for carrying out terror attacks are eligible for a lifetime NIS 10,000 ($2,772) monthly stipend, the Defense Ministry said, citing PA figures. Those prisoners who receive a three- to five-year sentence get a monthly wage of NIS 2,000 ($554). Palestinian prisoners who are married, have children, live in Jerusalem, or hold Israeli citizenship receive additional payments.

The Defense Ministry last month released figures alleging that some terrorists who killed Israelis will be paid more than NIS 10 million ($2.78 million) each throughout their lifetimes by the PA.

Critics of the current bill have warned it could bankrupt the PA, leading to its collapse.

Under an economic agreement signed in 1994, Israel transfers to the PA tens of millions of dollars each year in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.

The PA has refused to cease its payments to Palestinian prisoners.

In June 2017, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech read by his foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath, argued that “payments to support the families are a social responsibility to look after innocent people affected by the incarceration or killing of their loved ones.

“It’s quite frankly racist rhetoric to call all our political prisoners terrorists,” Abbas said. “They are, in actuality, the victims of the occupation, not the creators of the occupation.”



Mexico City elects first-ever Jewish mayor, exit poll shows

Mexico City has elected a Jewish person as mayor for the first time in history, local politician and scientist Claudia Sheinbaum, according to exit polls.

Sheinbaum, 56, has made a rapid political rise to lead North America’s largest city — though it has not been without controversy.

She won the election to lead North America’s largest city with between 47.5 and 55.5 percent of the vote, according to an estimate by polling firm Mitofsky.

She is also the first woman ever elected to the post. Her victory is a historic electoral win in a country with deep-rooted problems of gender inequality and violence against women.

A woman had previously served as mayor of the capital on an interim basis — Rosario Robles, from 1999 to 2000 — but Sheinbaum, who holds a doctorate in physics, is the first woman elected to the post.

Sheinbaum worked as an environmental engineer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico until recently. She spent four years as a PhD student in California.

“Just because I might look like a skinny scientist doesn’t mean I’m not going to crack down on crime here. I will,” she recently told the crowd at a rally in the capital.

In a speech last month, Sheinbaum, who also goes by Sheinbaum Pardo, told a Jewish audience she was connected with the Jewish community thanks to her grandparents, who emigrated from Lithuania and Bulgaria.

“We celebrated all the Jewish holidays at my grandparents’ house,” she said.

Almost all of Mexico’s 40,000 Jews live in Mexico City, according to the World Jewish Congress.

Sheinbaum is aligned with left-wing Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was also expected to have a strong showing in Monday’s vote.

Exit polls showed other Obrador allies doing well in several states. Surveys conducted by Mitofsky and Televisa forecast gubernatorial wins for allies of his Morena party in Chiapas, Morelos, Tabasco and Veracruz.

Sheinbaum was among the first politicians to leave Mexico’s established left-wing party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and join Lopez Obrador’s breakaway, Morena, when he formally launched it in 2014.

The following year, she won election as district mayor of Mexico City’s Tlalpan neighborhood, Lopez Obrador’s own district and one of the 16 “delegations” that make up the sprawling capital of more than nine million people.

That was the launch pad for her mayoral campaign — but she has been embroiled in controversy along the way.

Tlalpan was one of the areas hardest hit when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake devastated central Mexico on September 19, 2017.

Sheinbaum’s district became the center of world attention when the Rebsamen elementary school collapsed in the quake, killing 19 children and seven adults inside.

It later emerged the district had granted dodgy construction permits to the private school’s owner — who is today on the run from the law — allowing her to build an apartment for herself on top of the building, which destabilized the structure.

A group of victims’ families has brought criminal charges over the case, and wants Sheinbaum to face investigation.

She vehemently denies responsibility, and accuses her opponents of exploiting the tragedy for political reasons.

But she has been the target of unrelenting anger from victims’ families and their sympathizers — including on election day.

“Murderer!” a protester shouted at her after she cast her ballot.

Born into a family of scientists, Sheinbaum studied physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, earning a doctorate in energy engineering and going on to work as a consultant for the United Nations.

She was active in the university’s student movement, which rose up against an unpopular series of reforms at the institution in 1986.

She was one of many veterans of the movement to go into politics and help launch the PRD in 1989 — the main opposition party in what was then a one-party state.

She married fellow student activist Carlos Imaz in 1987.

Imaz was among the most recognizable faces of the Mexican left, also governing the Tlalpan district, until in 2004, he was one of several top officials caught on camera accepting large sums of cash.

He avoided jail time, but resigned and faded from politics. The couple separated in 2016. They have a daughter.

When Lopez Obrador was elected Mexico City mayor in 2000, he named Sheinbaum his environment minister.

She followed the fiery leader when he split with the PRD to found Morena, and is seen as a close ally, winning the party’s mayoral nomination in August over the man who was considered the favorite, veteran politician Ricardo Monreal.



Israel vs snail mail: Panel green-lights sale of stake in postal company

Israel has set out plans to privatize its state-owned postal services after years in which the company has been suffering from a drop in profitability and cash flow and from increased competition from alternative services.

On Monday, a ministerial committee in charge of the privatization of government held companies approved the sale of a 40 percent stake in the firm. An initial 20% stake will be sold via a private tender to a strategic investor in Israel or abroad. The remaining 20% stake will be sold off, within two years of the sale of the initial tranche, in a public offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

The listing of shares will bring about an increase in transparency, profitability and efficiency in the long term, the statement said. After the sale, the government stake in the firm will be no less than 60%, the statement said.

The strategic investor must commit to hold the shares for seven years and will be allowed to have an influence over choosing the company’s management team. Should the government fail to find an investor, then the full 40% stake will be sold on the stock exchange, the statement said.

To protect the state’s interests, Israel may consider conditioning any holding greater than 5% upon approval.

The postal company has been criticized in recent years for poor service, with letters arriving, if at all, with delays, and long lines at service centers.

Since 2015 the company has undertaken a restructuring plan that envisaged the opening of new distribution centers, a reorganization of its operations and a cut in employees.

Greater efficiency at the firm and its entry into new financial avenues — together with new partners — will help improve company results by “tens of millions of shekels a year,” the statement said.

The statement also said that the privatization is a step forward in the process of separating the company’s financial services from its postal services. The Finance Ministry is seeking to transform the postal bank into an “independent social bank that provides the best services to the Israeli public,” the statement said.