Very little is known about the photographer Y. Sinai, who was active in Jerusalem from 1912 to 1918 and had a portrait studio in his home in Mahaneh Yehuda. But an outdoor photograph from 1913-14, sheds light on a small corner of the city’s history: In it, 19 members of the Jerusalem yeshivas’ youth team, as a sign held by a player in the front row indicates, pose for a picture.
The image is visual proof of the existence of an Orthodox Jewish soccer league in Jerusalem a century ago. The players and the man standing next to them, who is distinguished from them by his long coat, all wear fezzes. Despite what may seem to be an incongruous note, it’s known that Sephardi Jewish men of the time sometimes wore fezzes.
The history of photography in Jerusalem parallels that in the rest of the world. The first cameras arrived early on, and from the middle of the 19th century the city was documented in detail by European photographers.
Their pictures were mostly of Jewish and Christian holy sites or stereotyped images of the Orient – Arabs in kaffiyahs, Jews in tallitot. Later on, Zionist photographers documented the city’s new neighborhoods, community leaders and residents of Jerusalem.
“The Camera Man – Women and Men Photograph Jerusalem 1900-1950,” at the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, in the Old City, is dedicated to those photographers – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – who lived and worked in the city in the period.
Not only did they record Orthodox Jewish soccer players but also British rugby players, tailors at their sewing machines and of course soldiers of every type and creed.
The local shutterbugs were not slaves to Oriental ism or to Zionism, stresses exhibition curator Shimon Lev.
The photographers had to take the pictures they were paid to take, usually by Zionist organizations, Lev adds – “but the sheer range in Jerusalem enabled them, forced them even, to photograph other things as well,” he says.
Many of the collections of Arab photographers working in Jerusalem were lost in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence or the 1967 Six-Day War. Some were looted, other seized by the Israeli army for intelligence purposes.
One of those photographers was Ali Zaarour, from a village outside of Jerusalem, who died in 1972. He began at age 12, as an assistant to an English photographer, before going on to take pictures for The Associated Press and for Arab publications.
During the 1948 war he was a photographer for Jordan’s Arab Legion and became King Abdullah’s personal photographer. His most important images were probably of the king’s murder, in 1951, but soldiers smashed his camera.
The Israel Defense Forces confiscated his collection and released it to his family only in 2008. Only 480 negatives remains. One shows the terrible aftermath of a bomb attack on Ben-Yehuda Street in 1948. Heavy smoke covers the right side of the frame, and people are seen fleeing or trying to find survivors in the rubble.
Another Palestinian photographer, Khalil Rassas, left behind a magnificent picture of flares lighting up the night and a photograph, apparently staged, of Arab soldiers on the walls of Jerusalem.
On the Jewish side is a photograph by Tim Gidal of an Orthodox platoon in the Haganah, the pre-state underground Jewish militia, and Yehuda Eisenstark’s photo of Moshe Dayan playfully throwing a snowball.
Zvi Oron documented British life in Mandate-era Jerusalem, from diplomatic receptions to rugby games. From Moshe Schwartz are iconic images of Arab and Jewish leaders standing in line at an official reception.
The Arabs, in fezzes and flowing galabiyas, appear to be comfortable in the burning sun. Behind them, standing close together in suit and tie are David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and their wives, in starched dresses. In the background, sitting on the roof of a nearby building, British soldiers observe the scene.