Over 40 years have passed since Ali Zaarour's photo album was stolen from his home in the village of Al-Azariya, east of Jerusalem, at the height of the Six-Day War. Zaarour, who was a professional photographer, documented the War of Independence in Jerusalem in 1948. At first he worked for the British Army and the AP news agency, and afterward in the service of the Arab Legion. Thus he recorded, among other things, the surrender of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City on May 28, 1948. Sixty years have passed and now Zaarour's rare photos are being shown for the first time.
When the Six-Day War broke out, Zaarour fled to Amman with his family. When they returned to their home in Al-Azariya a few weeks later, they discovered that the album with the black-and-white photos which he had taken and printed, had disappeared. This historic resource contained about 380 photos dating back as far as the 1948 war, including pictures of Jewish dead from the convoy that returned from Gush Etzion and was attacked next to Nebi Daniel, destroyed villages, dead Palestinians and refugees who lost their homes, as well as photos of Jordanian King Abdullah shortly before he was murdered on the Temple Mount.
Ali Zaarour died in 1972, ill and heartbroken. His son Zaki says that his father's ailments stemmed from the depression from which he suffered from the moment of the theft of his precious album, which he considered to be the pinnacle of his work as a war photographer. His suffering was eased by the fact that the thief did not touch his collection of negatives, "but [Father] didn't have the emotional strength to print new pictures from them." Before his death he ordered his son to send the negatives to a hiding place abroad and not to show them to anyone - even the family. And in fact, says Zaki, until he agreed to reveal them about a year ago, even his children, who are involved in photography, didn't see them.
"In 1948 I was about eight years old," recalled Zaki Zaarour last week. "My father used to be absent from home for periods of about two weeks, and when I asked him why he didn't return home every day like other fathers, he said that he worked as a photojournalist for the Jordanian Army, and he had to be the first and ready at any time to go out into the field. Father taught me how to develop the negatives, and he would print them in the darkroom. Each negative was 10 x 15 centimeters."
The album was rectangular, and had a black artificial leather binding with "Al-Quds" (Jerusalem) engraved on it, recalls Zaarour. During his childhood and early youth, he says, his father liked to have him sit next to him occasionally as he leafed through the album and described to his son the progress of that war, based on the photos. He arranged them in the album chronologically: Each photo received a number and was stamped on the back with the name Ali Zaarour. An index in the photographer's handwriting was attached to the album, in which he described the circumstances under which each photo was taken and what it shows.
Zaarour: "When I was 12 years old Father showed me the photos and read to me what he had written about each one. It's a shame that that page has disappeared, because I remember that there were several photos of the dead in Deir Yassin. Father was not the first photographer to enter the village after the massacre. He entered about a week later with the assistance of UN representatives and took a few pictures. Incidentally, Father used to make four copies of each: One was sent to the AP, one to the Jordanian Army, one to the UN and one copy he kept for himself. We were three brothers and a sister, Zakia, who is now 70 years old, but I was Father's protege. One of the pieces of advice he gave me was to take care of the album, because it would help me in the future."
Zaki Zaarour is not well today; his kidneys don't function and he needs dialysis. In spite of that he reports every day, dressed elegantly in a three-piece suit, to his shop in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, which is run by his son Ali. He declares that he is an optimistic person, but even in his rosiest dreams he didn't dream that one day he would get back his father's photos. And yet, about three weeks ago, Zaarour was invited to the Israel Defense Forces Archives near Tel Hashomer, and there he received 324 photos taken by his father. Thus Ali Zaarour's photo album became the first and apparently precedent-setting instance in which an archive of the State of Israel is returning a cultural asset to its Palestinian owner.
To Michal Tzur, the director of the army archives, this seems quite natural. "The moment we saw that the photos had an owner, we began immediately to deal with returning them," she says. "I'm responsible for the integrity and the condition of the IDF Archives, and that's why I did this. I regret that these photos will not be at our disposal in the future. I would be happy if we were given permission to use them, because these are important photos in terms of the history of the Jewish people, but I didn't try to ask the family."
Last year Liran Atzmor, who has produced dozens of documentaries, began to work on a documentary for the first time as a director. The film "Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, Al-Quds" ("Jerusalem Cuts," produced by Belfilms), was screened earlier this month at DocAviv - The Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival, and will be aired on Channel 8 on Independence Day. It is arousing interest abroad as well: The BBC will broadcast it in Great Britain, as will Arte in France and in Germany.
The film documents a search for photos from the battle that took place in the Old City in 1948, from three points of view: that of John Philips, a photographer for Life Magazine, whose photos were published immediately after the battles; that reflected in the full-length Israeli feature "Givat halfon aina onah" ("Hill 24 Doesn't Answer"), which represented Israel at the Cannes Festival in 1955; and that of Palestinian photographer Ali Zaarour. His son Zaki says in the film that he agreed to allow the photos to be publicized later only because his family's land was confiscated, along with about 100 olive trees, which were hundreds of years old and were uprooted and stolen when the separation wall was built.
Atzmor began his research by perusing the pioneering book/catalog by Dr. Rona Sela, "Tzilum bepalestine" ("Photography in Palestine in the 1930s-40s"), which was published in the wake of an exhibition she curated at the Herzliya Museum of Art in the summer of 2000. Prior to the exhibition Sela met in the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem with Zaki Zaarour, who she says agreed to release "only a small number of images that he chose carefully." Not a word was said at that meeting about the lost album, testifies Sela, who was a research consultant for the film.
Atzmor and Sela went to the IDF Archives together, where they asked to see 1948 photos of Jerusalem. They received files with the heading "Jerusalem" and classified as "Arab sources," says Sela. "I found a large number of photos, including those of Zaarour that were [subsequently] publicized in the exhibition and the book. A close examination of the photos showed me that these were reproductions. I asked to check whether the original prints from which the reproductions had been made were in the archives. I received a negative reply, but I demanded that they continue to look for the original photos, and in the end a dusty box was found with four albums with a fabric binding, containing several hundred original photos that bear the stamp 'Zaarour' and correspond to the negatives that Zaki has. We were extremely excited."
There was subdued embarrassment at the IDF Archives last week. Director Michal Tzur didn't like the questions about the photos, which apparently reached the archive illegally. For years nobody made an effort to find the rightful owner or his heirs, in accordance with copyright law. Tzur says that what Sela saw at first were large folders called "Jerusalem Foundation Albums," containing reproductions made from Zaarour's originals. The IDF Archives had received the photos in 1977 from the organization.
It seems that the Jerusalem Foundation - an organization founded in 1966 by then mayor Teddy Kollek, which raises funds for educational, cultural, social welfare and other community-related projects in the city - no longer had the original album by Zaarour. The pictures were taken out an rearranged in other "albums," the four that were discovered in the box in the archives' storage room. Tzur found copies in her archives last week of two letters from February and May 1977, which were sent to Ruth Cheshin, long-time president of the Jerusalem Foundation, in which the archives expressed thanks "for agreeing to give us the albums for the purpose of copying the photos. As mentioned, no use will be made of the photographs without your permission."
Tzur assumed that the original photos were returned to the Jerusalem Foundation at the time, but found no record of this. It is possible that someone at the organization decided in the end that the IDF Archives was the appropriate place for them, but did not imagine that they would gather dust in the storage room. The public was allowed to use most of the reproductions (with the exception of photos of bodies) on one condition: "Each time someone asked to use these photos," Tzur explains, "the archives would send him to a representative of the Jerusalem Foundation to get permission to do so."
In the archives' inventory records, the photo reproductions are described thus: "Jerusalem Foundation, Jerusalem, Arab sources, copyright belongs to the Jerusalem Foundation." The archives books further reveal that alongside each reproduction the following was written: "Photo for the approval of the Jerusalem Foundation; copyright: the Jerusalem Foundation; date of receipt of photos: April 1977." On the four albums that were found in the storage room the words "Palestine, Jerusalem" are written. According to Tzur, all these years the archives failed to make the connection between the contents of the box there, containing Zaarour's original prints, and the Jerusalem Foundation's reproductions.
How did this happen? The IDF Archives has about half-a-million photos, which were received from various sources and donors from 1948 until the present, says Tzur. As someone who has been working in the archives for 40 years and has run it since 1999, Tzur - who has a master's degree in library and archive studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem - is personally more interested in written documents. "The photos are a small part of the activity of the archive," she explains. "From the moment I understood from Rona Sela who the owner of the albums was, it was clear that we would return the property to the family."
Tzur is still insulted by a letter she received from the Zaarour family in July 2007. "Now we have discovered that all these years you kept and made commercial use of our father's album," they wrote her. "We demand that you immediately stop exploiting the copyright of the photos ... and do not let anyone use them without advance permission from us."
Tzur: "Since I didn't feel that I was exploiting them, the letter insulted me. It was an unworthy way of doing things, especially since as I said we had begun to handle the return of the album. Now I have to find out to whom the Jerusalem Foundation reproductions belong, and until then nobody can see them."
According to Zaki Zaarour, his father's album included 380 photos, which is the number of negatives in his possession. The family received only 324 photos from the IDF Archives. Tzur says that anything that was identified as a photo by Zaarour and bore his stamp on the back was returned to the family.
And how did the album get to the Jerusalem Foundation in the first place? Ruth Cheshin says that there is no documentation in her office that can shed light on the affair. "I assume that Zaarour's album reached Teddy Kollek's office and he didn't know what to do with it and gave it to the foundation," she says. "Apparently it came from an anonymous source. I assume that the photos looked interesting and were important, and that we concluded that we should transfer them to the history department of the IDF Archives."
Meron Benvenisti, who was Kollek's deputy mayor until 1979, said this week that he remembers the photos, but has no idea how they came to Kollek. Aharon Sarig, who was the head of Kollek's office from 1977 and his adviser on Arab affairs, also does not recall details: "Everything was incidental and improvised with Teddy," he remarked.
Today, 60 years later, rare photos of the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem are being publicized thanks to director Atzmor's film. However, without the index page prepared by photographer Zaarour, there is no way of identifying many of them in terms of locale and time. Atzmor tried to fill in the gaps and showed Zaarour's horrifying photos of bodies to historian Dr. Moshe Ehrenwald, who identified some of them as bodies of Jews, including victims of the convoy to Gush Etzion. What Zaki Zaarour had identified to the best of his memory as photos of refugees at the Mandelbaum Gate (the border crossing between Israel and Jordan until 1967) turned out to be a prisoner-of-war exchange.
In his film Atzmor shows that some of Zaarour's photos are almost identical to those of John Philips. Michal Tzur remarks that they are also similar to the work of other photographers, including those of the army's mapping and photography unit. But in Zaarour's collection there are some photos that are unique.
"As far as we know, Zaarour was the first Muslim photographer active in Israel," says Rona Sela. "He was an adventurer, a daring person and a war photographer at heart. His photos from before 1948 lack the 'lighting' that exists in the photos from 1948. The intensity of the war and the battles provided him with the raw material, and his photos make it clear that he lived and breathed the war."
The unique aspect of Ali Zaarour's work lies in the documentation of the war from the Arab point of view. "All we know until now about the battle for the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem is from the photos of John Philips," says Sela. "Although he was a non-Jew, Philips adopted a clearly Zionist viewpoint. Zaarour's photos provide us with another point of view of the war - the Palestinian one. We can say unequivocally that Zaarour photographed out of clear nationalist-Palestinian awareness. Moreover, he documented the horror, the bodies, the destruction and the terrors of war, an angle that continued to be censored even after the albums were approved for viewing. Now, when the material has been returned to the Zaarour family and the family is willing to reveal it, these difficult photos can enter the lexicon of images of the 1948 war, which have been censored until now."
His father was a political person, confirms Zaki Zaarour: "The Nakba [literally "catastrophe" - the Arabic term for the War of Independence] saddened him. As someone who was a witness to the tragedy of the Palestinians who were forced to leave their villages in the Jerusalem region, he told me frequently how the Israeli army would come to a village and tell its residents that they had two hours to organize and evacuate. His political viewpoint was reflected in the initiative to photograph what he did, and that was his unique quality. The Jordanian Army attached him and he had permission from them to go everywhere. They used him in order to record things, but he managed to use information that he received from them and went to events that he thought were worth recording. He would disappear from home for two weeks: At night he developed the photos in the shop and slept there for several hours. One day my father told me, 'Run and bring the envelope with photos to Glubb Pasha, commander of the Arab Legion.'"
'Cloud of death'
Ali Zaarour was born in 1900, a son of farmers and a farmer himself. At the age of 36 he began to work as an apprentice for a childless Christian photographer named Hanania, who owned a small photo shop near the Jaffa Gate. At first he carried equipment for Hanania, who used to photograph tourists next to the walls of the Old City. Later, recalls Zaki Zaarour, his father sold envelopes to tourists containing a few photos of Jerusalem, and afterward began to take pictures himself: "Hanania taught my father everything and treated him like a son. After his death, his widow asked my father to take care of the property and the shop, and when she died, my father inherited the shop and kept it until 1948."
The elder Zaarour was an autodidact and spoke five languages. He quickly adopted European customs: He always wore a tailor-made suit and Rayban glasses, smoked Camels and drank Black Label whiskey. "Until 1948 my father took pictures of consuls' parties in Jerusalem, weddings and family events, and photographed people in the studio in the shop. From November 1947 he began taking political pictures. In 1948 he received a press certificate from AP, and would send his photos to Jordan and from there they were sent to Beirut. My father worked for AP until 1972."
Ali Zaarour entered the Jewish Quarter with Arab Legion forces and, among other things, documented the Hurva synagogue that was shelled and destroyed. He photographed the surrender of the Jewish residents, the radiantly happy face of Musa al-Husseini (the nephew and representative of the mufti), Mordechai Weingarten (the mukhtar of the quarter), as well as the victory celebrations of the Jordanian commanders and soldiers. But he himself was not a happy man, says his son.
Zaarour: "My father was disappointed by the Arab countries that didn't keep their promise to send weapons and equipment to the fighters in 1948. He used to say that the Israelis had to fight hard, because they had no alternative state."
Abdullah al-Tal, the district commander of Jerusalem in the Arab Legion, was in charge of the occupation of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, and wrote about it in 1959 in his book "The Palestine Catastrophe." He described how reinforcements of 85 Haganah and Etzel (underground militia) fighters entered the Jewish Quarter, "but were unable to leave again," because "the gate of the trap" was closed that day and none of the Jews of the Old City were rescued until they surrendered in May 1948.
The besieged quarter was shelled incessantly, and the legion's soldiers advanced in house-to-house battles and gradually tightened the noose around the residents.
"Before sunrise on Friday, May 28, 1948, the Jewish neighborhood was revealed, shrouded by a black cloud, the cloud of death, destruction and sorrow," wrote Al-Tal. "At exactly 10 A.M. the soldiers saw two people, one of them a Jewish cleric, advancing toward them and waving a white flag."
The two men who wanted to meet with Al-Tal were the Haganah commander of the Jewish Quarter, Moshe Rosnak, and mukhtar Weingarten, who came with his two daughters. The UN representative for Jerusalem affairs was then brought in. At the conclusion of negotiations it was agreed that the Jews would hand over their weapons and ammunition. The civilians would be allowed to move to the new part of the city, whereas the fighters would be taken into captivity. The document of surrender, which was written in English and Arabic, was signed by Al-Tal and Rosnak.
After their weapons were collected, 1,500 Jews were gathered up, "looking as though they had arisen from their graves on the day of the resurrection. When I came to them with my officers, I found them in a pitiful state from the intensity of their fear, to the point that they stuck to one another like a flock of sheep, for fear that the submachine guns would wreak fire and brimstone on them as revenge for Deir Yassin, about which they knew a little."
Al-Tal also wrote how he made sure that his soldiers treated the people of the Jewish Quarter with respect, and described how the fighters were separated from the civilians, who received water and cigarettes from his soldiers. Later the civilians were brought via the Zion Gate to the new city. His soldiers displayed exemplary behavior, he wrote, and even carried the elderly on their backs. The captives were sent to a camp in Al-Mafraq, on the other side of the Jordan River.
Golda in uniform
Ali Zaarour followed the events with his camera. The battles continued, and in August of 1948, Moshe Dayan was appointed commander of the Jerusalem front, and reached a cease-fire agreement with the legion. Zaki Zaarour recalled last week that his father also photographed those meetings: "My father had connections with Israelis. He became friendly with Dayan and recorded open meetings between him and Glubb Pasha. After the 1967 war Dayan came to my father's shop, and my father took him to antique shops in East Jerusalem. My father also knew and admired Moshe Sharett, and was sorry to hear of his death."
How do you explain that?
Zaarour: "My father had a strange dark side. He kept many things to himself. Once, before 1967, he gave me a letter with photos, so that I would give them to a priest who was going to the Israeli side. I asked what it was and he replied that it was better for me not to ask about what was none of my business. Another time, also before 1967, he told me that one day I would work with Israelis. I asked him why and he only said that when it happened I should remember that he told me so. My father was a simple man, but he was smart."
Zaarour says that his father photographed Golda Meir in the uniform of the Jordanian Army "when she came as a representative of the Jewish Agency to meet with King Abdullah in Amman in 1948. The Jordanians took the negative from him. My father said to me, 'One day I will die. Don't trust anyone, not even an Arab, who wants to buy the album.' He didn't want his photos to be used for propaganda purposes by either side. Faisal al-Husseini wanted to buy the negatives for a large sum, and I didn't agree."
Zaarour says that his father was King Abdullah's photographer until 1956; he also photographed King Hussein. "My father was tired and transferred some of the tasks to me, and I photographed the king until 1958. My father had permission from the Jordanians to take pictures at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and I continued to work there. Today my brother Ibrahim is in charge of the shop there."
In 1967 Ali Zaarour was invited to document the war for AP and the Jordanian Army, but turned down the offer, his son explains: "Father said that he wouldn't take pictures, because it would be a short war. He thought that the game was fixed and that Jordan would give up the territories and Jerusalem. On the second day of the war we traveled to Amman."
And what happened at home in Al-Azariya?
"The house was closed and we heard that IDF soldiers came to my father's house and drew a red X on the door. Most of the neighboring houses were robbed or damaged. When I asked him why our house wasn't robbed, he said he didn't know and added in English: Leave it for the time [being]. When we returned from Amman Father discovered that nothing was missing in the house except for the album, which had been on the cupboard in the bedroom. He was very sad, but was consoled by the fact that the negatives remained and instructed me to guard them carefully."
His father assumed that Israeli soldiers had taken the album, and that is the version reflected in the film. "Father and I tried, with the help of connections we had with Israelis, to find out what had happened to the album, and were unsuccessful. Last month, after receiving the album from the IDF Archives, I asked my sister about it and she said that her husband, who was a teacher and also worked in construction and renovations, had given the album as a gift to an Israeli from Talbieh for whom he worked. She explained that he didn't think it was so terrible because after all, my father still had the negatives."
By an interesting coincidence, the lost album at one point came into the hands of the late Teddy Kollek, another Israeli with whom Ali Zaarour was friendly. "Teddy Kollek visited us in the shop, and he never said a word to me about the album."
Ali Zaarour continued to take pictures until his last days, but concentrated on photographing tourists. He used to work until 2 P.M. and then return home. His wife was religious, but he continued to live as he liked: He bought and wore well-tailored suits ("Father had 48 suits in the closet"), drank the whiskey he liked and looked out at his garden, which was surrounded by a wall built of empty whiskey bottles. The beautiful garden was destroyed, as was the house and the wall. In the final scene of the film Zaki Zaarour and his grandchildren go to the ruins of the house and reminisce about the past. Next time he can take his father's album with him.W