Soldiers at the Western Wall
As the Six-Day War (Fought between June 5 and 10, 1967) raged between Israel and the neighboring Arab States Israeli photo journalist, David Rubinger, heard that something big was going on in Jerusalem. By helicopter, car and on foot he rushed to a divided city that Israeli paratroopers had overrun. When he got to the western wall he saw three paratroopers and told them to look up. Lying down on the ground he took this iconic shot.
The Six Day War
Leading up to the 1967 Six Day War Israel and the surrounding Arab states, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were under a period of escalating tension and small border raids. Israel decided that the Arab states were eventually going to attack and so decided to take the initiative and launch a full scale invasion of the surrounding territory. The resulting attack, coined the Six Day War devastated the Israel’s surrounding states and it seized the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. In the words of David Rubinger, “we went from being doomed to having an empire. It was like a condemned man with the noose around his neck suddenly being told that not only was he going to live he was going to be the king.”
Rubinger captured and immortalized the three paratroopers, Zion Karasenti, Yitzak Yifat and Haim Oshri. They had just fought a brutal engagement, the Battle of Ammunition Hill where Israeli forces overran Jordanian forces in intense hand to hand combat. Karasenti remembers that the “Jordanians couldn’t get away, but they kept on fighting to the last man.” All three commented on how brave the Jordanians were in battle. The attack fell to the Israeli 3rd company of the 66th Battalion, of the Paratroopers Brigade’s reserve force (55th Brigade), and during the battle, a force of the 2nd company joined the fighting. During the battle 71 Jordanian soldiers and 36 Israelis were killed.
Zion Karasenti remembers in an interview there was fierce fighting when the Israelis engaged the Jordanians.
I had finally been mobilized, and almost all of the reservists in my unit were already in combat, I remember my mother’s fear — and her tears. I knew our country had no choice, and I had to do my duty to defend it. [During the fighting] There was a passage covered with barbed wire, I jumped on it and helped others to cross. I felt no pain. We went into the trenches. They were not very deep, but they were quite narrow. [After the fighing Karasanti walked to the Western Wall]
I saw an Israeli soldier in the area– I had no idea where she came from. I asked her, ‘Where am I?’ She said, ‘This is the Western Wall.’ Then, before disappearing, she gave me a postcard and told me to write to my parents. I thought I had dreamed it. But years later, I met this woman. She was a soldier in the IDF Postal Corps.”
Karasenti would be around 70 in 2013 and worked as a director and choreographer. He lives in Afula.
In the rushed nature of the war Yitzhak Yifat actually had a tooth ache for most of the war, before the battle to take Ammunition Hill he had some dental work and actually fought with his face still numb from local anesthesia.
It was face-to-face fighting. I fought like a tiger. My friend was shot in the backside and he was about to be shot again by a Jordanian. I shot him. Another Jordanian saw I was out of bullets and he charged at me with a bayonet. I don’t know how I did it, but I took his gun and shot him with it. It was brutal, and a sad victory. I lost many friends. After the fighting we built a memorial to our friends – and one to the Jordanians, in honour of their bravery.
Entering the Old City wasn’t such a big deal to me as it was to some. I wonder now if it was all worth it: it seems so complicated and our leaders have no vision for the future. I am glad we liberated Jerusalem and it should remain united under our sovereignty, but everyone, from any religion, should be allowed to visit. I’m angry about what the religious [Orthodox] have done to the Western Wall, dividing it between the sexes and imposing their rules on it.
Yitzhak Yifat would be 70 in 2013 and studied to become a gynecologist and obstetrician.
Oshri was a Yemeni Jew born in 1944 and emigrated to Israel in 1949 after it was created in the War of Independence.
The battle for Ammunition Hill was the worst moment of the war. There wasn’t a plan – we were just told to attack. The Jordanians were brave soldiers. Now it makes me angry to think of all the unnecessary casualties. If we had taken more time to plan, there would have been far fewer casualties.
As an Orthodox Jew it was special for me to be involved in the fight for Jerusalem. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Poland or Yemen, Jerusalem is our common bond. Every day we pray three times to Jerusalem, and I could never have imagined the magic of seeing the Kotel [Western Wall] for the first time.
David Rubinger Taking the Picture
David Rubinger was born in Vienna, Austria in 1924. As the Nazis over took Europe he was able to escape to Palestine while his father made his way to England. His mother was not so lucky and died during the holocaust. Settling in a Jordan Valley kibbutz he broke into photojournalism working at a number of Israeli papers until he was hired by Time-Life in 1954.
When the Six-Day War broke out Rubinger was covering the fighting in the Sinai and heard over the radio that something big was going to happen in Jerusalem. He was able to hitch a ride aboard a helicopter, for the wounded, to his car and then he drove the rest of the way, even picking up a hitchhiking soldier so that he could drive for a while so that Rubinger could catch up on some sleep. He remembers that when he heard the city had fallen to the Israelis he rushed to Wailing Wall and saw the three paratroopers. He directed them to look up while
I lay down to take the picture of the paratroopers because there was barely three metres between the Wailing Wall and the houses next to it. When I developed the film, I didn’t think much of the picture….
[He also took an emtional photo of Shlomo Goren, the chief army chaplain, with a shofar and a Torah scroll] I thought this was the picture, I was crying when I took it. I came back home, developed the film and showed the pictures to my wife, Annie. I said, ‘Look at this fantastic picture of Rabbi Goren.’ She said, ‘Yes, but the one with the three soldiers is better.’ I said, ‘It’s just three soldiers.’ It turned out Annie was right.”
…I gave it to the army. They passed it on to the government press office which then distributed it to everyone for virtually nothing. I still don’t think it’s a great picture, but often iconic pictures are created by the media and what people read into them.
To get front line access Rubinger and other photojournalists had made an agreement to share any photos he took. When he sent this photo to them they immediately saw the potential and started printing millions of copies that they sold for pennies. These printings and pirate copying spread it around the world and made it an iconic image. Rubinger recounts, “I was very upset but, in retrospect, I have to be grateful to everybody who stole the picture. That’s what made it famous.”
Rubinger continued with his job at Time-Life and in published a book, Israel Through My Lens: Sixty Years As a Photojournalist. With his wife Anni the couple had two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Two years after his wife died Rubinger met a widower Ziona Spivak who he had a relationship with until on the eve of the first Paul Goldman exhibition was to open in Detroit she was found murdered by her gardener. Rubinger was going to cancel the trip but “I came to the conclusion that, if I surrender to the mood, that there’s nothing more to live for, the body will follow the mind in a very short while. I made myself call Spencer and say ‘I’m coming.’ Thanks to that, I got out of it.”