IN PHOTOS: Tel Aviv on Lockdown? We’ve Seen That Before

Israeli archives remind us that the first Hebrew city has seen empty, police-patrolled streets before – beginning in Mandatory times

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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A clandestine photo of Mandatory officials enforcing the curfew in Tel Aviv after issuing the White Paper, in 1939.
A clandestine photo of Mandatory officials enforcing the curfew in Tel Aviv after issuing the White Paper, in 1939. Credit: Hans Pinn/GPO

Following the protest that erupted in Tel Aviv in May 1939, after the British government issued its White Paper, limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine, Mandatory authorities clamped a curfew on the city. In a photograph taken by Hans Pinn, two British policemen on horseback can be seen patrolling its empty streets. Pinn (1916-1978) had immigrated from Germany the year before, and went on to serve in a photography unit of the British Army during World War II and to work for The Associated Press and Israel’s mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth. His works can be found in the National Photo Collection of the Israel State Archives, in Jerusalem.

In July 1946, Pinn was on hand to photograph the closure of Tel Aviv after the bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel by the pre-state Etzel underground, in which about 90 people – British, Jewish and Arab – were killed. Less than a year later, in March 1947, he documented Operations Hippo and Elephant, when the British imposed martial law on the Jewish communities of Greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in response to attacks by the militant Etzel and Lehi organizations. Pinn’s photo showed residents of Tel Aviv waiting behind barbed-wire fences, for permission to move about the city.

Tel Aviv residents waiting behind barbed wire fences for permission from British soldiers to leave the city.
Tel Aviv residents waiting behind barbed wire fences for permission from British soldiers to leave the city. Credit: Hans Pinn/ GPO
March 1947, a martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of the British Mandate’s Operation Hippo following increased activity by the Lehi and Etzel underground militias.
March 1947, a martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of the British Mandate’s Operation Hippo following increased activity by the Lehi and Etzel underground militias. Credit: Zoltan Kluger / GPO
דMarch 1947, a martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of the British Mandate’s Operation Hippo following increased activity by the Lehi and Etzel underground militias.
דMarch 1947, a martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of the British Mandate’s Operation Hippo following increased activity by the Lehi and Etzel underground militias. Credit: Zoltan Kluger / GPO
British soldiers enforcing the curfew in Tel Aviv after the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, as part of Operation Shark.
British soldiers enforcing the curfew in Tel Aviv after the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, as part of Operation Shark. Credit: Hans Pinn, Israel National Library collection
March 1947, martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of Operation Hippo imposed by the British Mandate authorities because of the increased operations of the Etzel and Lehi underground militias.
March 1947, martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of Operation Hippo imposed by the British Mandate authorities because of the increased operations of the Etzel and Lehi underground militias. Credit: Hans Pinn/ GPO

These same historic events were photographed by another iconic photographer, Zoltan Kluger, who was born in Hungary in 1896. He served as an airborne photographer in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, worked as a press photographer in Berlin in the 1920s and immigrated to Palestine after the Nazis rose to power. Kluger is known in particular for his documentation of the Jewish state-in-the-making.

The State Archives has scanned and uploaded some 20,000 of Kluger’s photos and also houses the photographic collection of the Mandate’s Palestine Information Office, which includes pictures of British police officers patrolling Tel Aviv during a closure. There is no specific information, however, pertaining to the events documented, their dates or the name of the photographer who took the shots.

Another important collection in the same archives is that of Beno Rothenberg, a German Jewish photographer who immigrated in 1933 and documented Israel’s War of Independence, but is better known for his subsequent work as an archaeologist. His collection includes photos from Operation Betzer in August 1948. This time it was not British Mandatory authorities, but the nascent Israeli government that placed Tel Aviv under curfew in an attempt to ferret out deserters and draft dodgers during the war. Some 3,000 civilians were detained during the operation; a few hundred were drafted immediately.

Later that year, another closure was imposed on the city – but for a completely different reason. On November 8, 1948, Israel’s first census was conducted in the middle of the war. A general curfew was imposed and everyone was ordered to remain in their homes for seven hours to guarantee that all residents could be found at home.

דMarch 1947, martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of Operation Hippo imposed by the British Mandate authorities because of the increased operations of the Etzel and Lehi underground militias.
דMarch 1947, martial law curfew on Tel Aviv as part of Operation Hippo imposed by the British Mandate authorities because of the increased operations of the Etzel and Lehi underground militias. Credit: Hans Pinn/ GPO
August 1948, civilians stopped for a check in Tel Aviv during Operation Betzer to locate deserters and draft dodgers during the War of Independence.
August 1948, civilians stopped for a check in Tel Aviv during Operation Betzer to locate deserters and draft dodgers during the War of Independence. Credit: Beno Rothenberg collection, Israel State Archives.
British police patrolling Tel Aviv under closure. Photo: Palestine Information Office (PIO) collection, preserved in the Israel State Archives. Photographer unknown.
British police patrolling Allenby street in Tel Aviv under closure. Photographer unknown. Credit: Palestine Information Office (PIO) collection, preserved in the Israel State Archives

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