supporters of Rabbi Dov Lior
Rioting at the Supreme Court building by supporters of Rabbi Dov Lior, June 11, 2011. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Horses are a wonderful photographic subject, but in this photograph by Tomer Appelbaum − taken on the day that supporters of Rabbi Dov Lior, from Kiryat Arba, tried to burst into the Supreme Court building − the horse is not meant to be the subject. Not only because the rider is looking to the side − as though asking, “What should I do with him now, turn around?” − but because the subject is hand gesture: The supplicating palms of the young bespectacled redhead in the blue shirt − the ceremonial fringes protruding from under it, and the bobby pin holding his skullcap in place − which are asking, “So what do you want, for heaven’s sake? Is this good for you? Can I stand here?”

This is a photograph of the dispersal of a demonstration, and the question of who is wielding unnecessary force and who is overdoing things hovers over it, is discussed in it and is contained within it. The redhead does not seem to be frightened of the horse, and the rider of the horse does not seem to be threatening the redhead. The shrubbery along the stone fence is cultivated and restrained; the redhead is not stepping on it but also seems indifferent to its beauty. He has reached the far edge of the riot. The horse’s right hind leg is in the air, as though it were stepping in place, and the rider, who is holding the reins, seems to be signaling it to move sideways and leave the site.

It’s hard to think of a photograph of a horse that does not spark the imagination and stimulate emotion. Barthes mentions “The Terminal” ‏(or “The Car Horses,” 1892‏) as the only photograph by Alfred Stieglitz that “delights” him. A horse is a Houyhnhnm, Swift’s noble moral prodigy from “Gulliver’s Travels.” If you go for a walk with a little girl in Tel Aviv, you can conclude every such outing with a horse. There is a bronze horse on Rothschild Boulevard and a purple fiberglass one in Gan Ha’ir mall. There’s always a horse.

What horses do Rabbi Lior’s supporters possess? Maybe “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea”; or possibly “With thee I will break in pieces the horse and its rider.” They who feel persecuted, who long for the day when they will be able to annul the state that stands in their way and establish on its ruins a kingdom, and all the riders of the horses shall be vanquished before them, and all its Jews repent and all the occupied people, the others, those on whose land they are squatting in Kiryat Arba, shall disappear, be transferred, expelled, shall flee or be placed in bondage − what do they know about horses, anyway?

It is impossible even to say to them, “My handiwork is drowning in the sea and you are uttering a song,” because their language is now developing inwardly, within their separatist, messianic self-enflaming courts, and they alone have the right to use it. So that, if we look at this photograph, this slightly amusing image, it is perfectly clear that the hand gesture is secondary, that the redhead overcomes the rider. And then, then it is perhaps possible to see that this horse, its teeth flashing, with its beautiful brown eye and its long lashes, is looking with total wonder at the redhead. Like a Houyhnhnm upon seeing a Yahoo.