The myth of the land of Mandate Palestine as an untapped oasis waiting for Jewish habitation is still thriving on both sides of the Green Line. Photographs are a key tool for perpetuating — and challenging — that myth.
David Rubinger, Israel’s most famous photographer, died on 1 March at the age of 92. His photograph of three Israeli paratroopers gazing at the Western Wall, taken minutes after Israeli forces seized Jerusalem’s Old City during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was widely revered as a symbol of Zionism’s triumphant destiny. Rubinger, however, was not particularly fond of the picture: “Part of the face is cut off on the right side,” he said, “in the middle the nose protrudes, and on the left there’s only half a face … photographically speaking, this isn’t a good photo.”
The soldiers’ faces were not the only things cut out of the shot. Behind Rubinger were the buildings of the Mughrabi Quarter of the Old City, home to about 650 Palestinians. Three days after the picture was taken, the Israeli army evicted the residents and demolished their houses and mosques. An open plaza now welcomes worshipers and visitors to the Western Wall, with no trace of the area’s former life. “There are those who write the pages of history,” President Rivlin said after Rubinger’s death, “and there are those who create them with their lens.”
Israeli visual history has always required the erasure of Palestinians. The National Library recently released forty aerial photos, taken by Zoltan Kluger in 1937, of what it described as “pre-state Israel” rather than Mandate Palestine. The images, which include views of the Nahalal moshav and Tel Aviv, bolster the Zionist myth of the land as an untapped oasis waiting for Jewish labor and habitation.
The myth is still thriving eighty years later, on both sides of the Green Line. Kluger’s photo of the fertile banks of the River Jordan could easily be used today to advertise the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements and industries in the occupied Jordan Valley, which have displaced thousands of Palestinians. In the Negev, the Palestinian village of Umm al-Hiran is slated to be destroyed and a Jewish town built on its ruins. A video made by the incoming Jewish residents, who currently live in a temporary encampment in a nearby forest, shows two men searching the desert for...Read More