IN PHOTOS: Turning Pre-state Zionist Pioneers Into Idols

The copyrights of these photos expired long ago. As JNF marks 120 years, it's time to make its photographic treasure accessible to the public

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A pioneer on a farming equipment.
A Zionist pioneer on a farming equipment, date unknown.
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

There are 1.5 million historic photographs in the Keren Kayameth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund archives. But only 50,000 have been posted on the organization’s website, which is antiquated and not user-friendly, and even those photos can’t be accessed at a high enough resolution.

So now, 120 years after the organization was founded at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel in 1901, perhaps the time has finally come to rescue this treasure from the organization’s hands and make it fully accessible to the public.

Kfar Vitkin youth plant a pillar in Mikhmoret.
A pioneer in Rehovot.
Women's training farm in the village of Ayanot, Israel.
A youngster in Rehovot.

The copyrights on the photos have long since expired, since Israeli copyright law at the time stated that photographs become common property 50 years after they were taken. The law was changed in 2008 to extend the copyright period to 70 years, but that applies only to photographs taken after the amendment was passed.

This means the visual treasure amassed in the KKL-JNF archives until 1971 (50 years ago) should be open to the public. Most of these photos date to the formative years of the state’s establishment.

Children in Be'erot Yitzhak.
A pioneer in Kfar Vitkin.
Pioneers in kibbutz Na'an.

The archive was set up in 1924, when the organization opened its propaganda and press departments. “The pictures served to win hearts and increase sympathy for the Zionist issue among world Jewry and mobilized Jewish communities to provide financial aid through donations,” Guy Raz, the collection’s curator, wrote in an article published in the latest issue of the journal “Et-Mol.”

In this way, thanks to photographs taken from particular angles, the pre-state pioneers were turned into idols. The power and beauty of these laborers, tillers of the soil, was glorified.

Jewish construction was also glorified through the KKL-JNF photographs, and one of the most famous photographers, Zoltan Kluger, was even sent to take a series of aerial photographs that would provide a bird’s-eye view of Jewish construction and renewal. Other prominent photographers whose works appear in the archives include Samuel Joseph Schweig, Avraham Malevsky, Yaakov Rosner and Tim (Nahum) Gidal.

The day of the establishment of kibbutz Ma'ayan Baruch.
A shepherd in Kfar Menahem.
Pupils from Jerusalem visit kibbutz Givat HaShlosha in central Israel.
Watermelons season in the Sharon plain.

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