Israel's national archives are not housed in some historic, imposing building, or even in the capital's government compound.

Instead, this reliquary of documents that can shake the state even decades after their writing is located in a dilapidated building in Jerusalem's Talpiot industrial zone, amid the garages and the hardware stores.

Office hours are 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., and anyone can go to the reading room and request a document.

On Wednesday, the reading room held five visitors, all of them students.

"I'm writing an essay for my master's program, and I realized the material I was looking for was here," said one of them, Dan Kimchi. "It's fascinating to be in an archive like this, but then I hear about the magnificent archives in Britain and other countries, and there's just no comparison."

But Kimchi praised the skill of the archivists, who located the material he requested within a few hours.

The documents date from 1917 - when the country was still under Ottoman rule - to today, and its 30 storerooms are full.

Each storeroom contains as many as 11,000 brown cardboard boxes. The temperature is carefully maintained at 18 degrees Celsius, with humidity at 45 percent.

An effort is being made to digitize the documents. But in addition to being digitally scanned, each is photographed on microfilm - a medium whose survivability is already proven.

The archives are guarded, equipped with advanced firefighting systems, and can only be entered by punching a personal code. It is forbidden to photograph the building from the outside.

"There are moments here when you touch things that touch you very much, that make you appreciate the place you work in," said Yossi Cohen, one of the archivists.