Photojournalist Miri (Miriam) Tzahi was an unusual figure among local photographers. Not only because she was a woman and religious, but also because she began her career at the relatively advanced age of 40. Nor did she shrink from taking pictures in dangerous places, including after she became a grandmother.
On Tuesday Tzahi, who was famed for the images she captured in the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over decades of life, died of cancer, at age 66.
Tzahi was born in 1954 in Jaffa, in the (now demolished) Manshiyya neighborhood, to parents who immigrated from Turkey. Her father, David, was a dockworker at the Jaffa Port. He gave her a camera for her bat mitzvah, “even though there was barely enough money for food at home,” as she later told the right-wing Zionist weekly Makor Rishon, the main newspaper for which she worked as a photographer.
After army service she studied art at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, as well as drawing and the plastic arts at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Her career as a photographer only began later, in the 1990s, after raising five children. At the same time, she found religion.
In the late 1990s, after the Oslo Accords and the subsequent terror attacks, she was hired as a photographer for Makor Rishon. Later she also took pictures for other media outlets, including Israel Hayom. She concentrated on documenting the situation in the West Bank, photographing both settlers and Palestinians.
“When I started there weren’t many photographers focusing on the region. Over the years doors were opened to me, and today people know me, trust me,” she later said. She recorded clashes between Jews and Arabs, took close-ups of the so-called “hilltop youth” (“a kind of youthful rebellion,” as she put it), as well as violent demonstrations, evacuations and demolition of settlers’ homes. During Israel’s disengagement from Gaza she documented the evacuation of settlements in Gush Katif and northern Samaria, as well as the evacuation of the illegal settlement of Amona and events during the second intifada. Over the years she was herself attacked several times, both by Palestinians and by extremist settlers.
Her work made the headlines from time to time. For example, the police sued her for pictures of a clash she photographed in 2011, and former MK Effi Eitam displayed some of her photos, which he claimed proved how he was injured during the evacuation of Amona in 2006.
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Some of her photos won prizes in the “Local Testimony” exhibition of press photographs. She also published two books of her work.
Among the photos she shot that made waves was one of soldiers during a ceremony marking graduation from a training course: they wore shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Golani [Brigade] doesn’t evict Jews,” a photograph that resulted in their being sent to prison.
In an interview with the Haaretz magazine City Mouse, she said in 2014: “I consider my work art for all intents and purposes. This may sound terrible, but yesterday for example (in a terror attack in a supermarket in Ma’aleh Adumim), the blood was on the floor and next to it was an ad from a certain cosmetics firm, with the smiling girl, so let’s say ‘Art or death,’ and for me it’s true, I live it. In terms of a mission, yes, I have to bring the truth, and I try to bring it. In my pictures I don’t mock people, I had such opportunities with politicians, but I never picked up the camera in order to catch the weakness of the person in front of me. I also try to bring out the pain as much as I can, whether it’s a Jew or a non-Jew, it makes no difference. For example, I was at the evacuation of some village, I went inside, true I’m a religious woman, a Jew, and at that moment it made no difference to me, I entered and I caught the pain of the people and the children.”
“Miri had an exceptional talent for capturing in the camera lens moments and people which many others were unable to document before her,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Reuven Rivlin added that she was “sharp-eyed and full of heart,” and that “no visit to a settlement was complete” without her.
Tzahi, who lived in Jerusalem, will be buried in the cemetery in the settlement of Tekoa.