Gaza, 100 Years Ago, Like You've Never Seen Before

For the 21st-century Israeli, Gaza City is almost an imaginary place. So near and yet so far. But this wasn’t always the case. These rare photos unveil the reality of Gaza's past

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Gaza 1956, street vendors.
Gaza 1956, street vendors. Credit: Moshe Levin
Matan Barzilai, The National Library
Matan Barzilai, The National Library

Zvi Meitar (1933-2015) was a collector of historical documents and photographs.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.

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.

A Bedouin sheikh in Gaza, 19th century (no date). Credit: William McKenzie
Gaza, 1858. Credit: William Mackenzie
Gaza, Old City, 1858. Credit: William Mackenzie
Gaza 1967, fishing boats on the shore. Credit: Boris Carmi
Gaza 1956, a group of children. Credit: Moshe Levin / The “Meitar Collection,” now at the National Library of Israel
Gaza 1967, local police on horseback. Credit: Boris Carmi
Gaza 1956, a group of children. Credit: Moshe Levin
Gaza 1967, tourists and shoe polishers on the street. Credit: Boris Carmi
Gaza 1956, street vendors. Credit: Moshe Levin
Gaza 1967, fishing boats on the shore. Credit: Boris Carmi
Gaza 1967, dignitaries descend the stairs. Credit: Boris Carmi

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.

Blog editor: Daniel Tchetchik. From Exposure: Haaretz Photo Blog. Follow on Facebook

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

$1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

A family grieves outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.

Israeli PM Offers Condolences After Texas Gunman Kills 21 at Elementary School

U.S. President Joe Biden, this week.

Biden Decides to Keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Terror List, Says Report

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Progressive Jews Urge ADL Chief to Apologize for Calling Out Democratic Activist

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders with Jessica Cisneros in San Antonio last week.

It’s AIPAC vs. Bernie Sanders in Too-close-to-call Texas Democratic Runoff

U.S. President Joe Biden. Making a historic pivot to Asia.

Biden Does What His Three Predecessors Talked About Yet Failed to Do

Meir Kahane addressing his followers during a demonstration in Jerusalem, in 1984.

Why the U.S. Removed Kahane Chai From Terrorist Blacklist