Zvi Meitar (1933-2015) was a collector of historical documents and photographs. During his lifetime he purchased the collections of four important Land of Israel photographers: Beno Rothenberg, Moshe Levin, Boris Carmi and Emanuel Hareuveni. Recently, his family transferred the “Meitar Collection” to the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection in the National Library, where hundreds of photos from Gaza are preserved. The earliest ones, dating to the mid-19th century, originally belonged to the Lenkin Family Collection of Photography, at the University of Pennsylvania.
For the average 21st-century Israeli, Gaza City is almost an imaginary place. So near and yet so far. But this wasn’t always the case. Until the Arab riots of 1929, there was a respectable Jewish community in Gaza. Even in the 1930s and 1940s, Jews still lived in the city, among them relatives of mine—a pair of doctors who were sent to Gaza by the Jewish Agency in 1936 in a bid to rehabilitate the Jewish community there and serve as its doctors.
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Moshe Levin is considered the first photographer in Israel to shoot in color. In 1956 he visited Gaza and documented its streets in strong and surprising colors. In 1967, photographer Boris Carmi visited the city and documented its streets, its dignitaries, the beach, the fishing boats, the Israeli tourists, the local peddlers and the shoeshine boys. Although it is impossible to ignore the historical context in which these two men visited the Strip (the Sinai Campaign, the Six-Day War), their photos afford us a glimpse into Gaza as it once was.
It is clear that both photographers chose to ignore the thundering of cannons and the chaos of war, instead focusing on their muse; on the world encountered by their camera.