James Finley, a prize-winning St. Louis-based news photographer for Associated Press, is the source for a pithy one-liner that can serve as a universal motto for proud photojournalists and their irritable editors everywhere: “If you didn’t get a picture of it, it didn’t happen.”
Haaretz’s supplement “Israel in Camera” is, in many ways, a case in point. It is our collection of pictures that not only record some of the many memorable moments of Israel’s 65 years, but also recreate them, in ways that only a good photo can.
This is a telling of our history, frozen in time but preserved for posterity, in pictures that are often worth much more than a thousand words. In an era when entire photo departments are uprooted in one fell swoop by cost-cutting news organizations, it may be worthwhile to remember that these are the pictures that allow you to see for yourself, to imagine you were there.
So join us for a trip down memory lane, on a journey of 100 pictures that goes from the way we were, through the things that we are, to the road signs of where we are going. This is our Israel: from the miraculous to the mundane, from the religious to the profane, from the truly inspiring to the deeply troubling, from the ridiculous to the sublime. This is Israel, seen through the discerning eyes of Haaretz photographers, sometimes in the thick of things, often far from the beaten track, portraits of main protagonists but also of ordinary people, caught in the whirlwind of history.
Here, in the black and white photos of the 1940s and 1950s, one can still sense the wonder at the rebirth of the Jewish state, darkened by the shadows of Holocaust, challenged by tremendous tasks that lay ahead, threatened by mistakes about to be made.
Here are the first of a seemingly endless list of firsts: the first elections, the first Mother’s Day, the first Miss Universe, the first – of many – Nobel prizes, the first nuclear reactor, the first Tel Aviv skyscraper, the first Oscar nomination, the first miraculous salvation of a Jewish community in distress, the first riots by the underprivileged, the first of many open wounds that may never be closed.
Here is the contrived pose of Nazi war criminal Eichmann, the wounded gaze of accused collaborator Kastner, the divisive debate over David Ben-Gurion’s Reparations Agreement with Germany, a harbinger of decades of confrontation between pragmatic Mapai, now Labor, and ideological Herut, now Likud.
And here are iconic heroes like Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon, sculptors of Israel’s military persona and painters of its own self-image, for better but, as it later turned out, for worse as well. And “Exodus,” the movie, with its idyllic glorification that so many American Jews cling to and often prefer over its troubling manifestations in reality: Golda, without the Yom Kippur War; Begin, without Sabra and Shatila.
The year 1967 is the turning point, the vortex that took Israel to another dimension, miraculous to some, destructive for others, the trigger for an internal struggle that never ends over Israel’s security, soul and place in the world. This is the roller coaster that is Israel, from the peaks of Sadat’s trailblazing visit in 1977 or the mass influx of Soviet Jews of the early 1990s to the lows of the Bus 300 affair and the incessant terrorist atrocities in the heart of Israeli cities
And throughout it all, the indefatigable Shimon Peres, player and witness, last of the titans, his trials and triumphs echoing the ups and downs of the country he now heads, on his 90th birthday.
This is Israel, as it is, warts and all: a formidable military power, an economic wonder, a startup nation, but also a country of rampant corruption and religious intolerance, an exemplary democracy that nonetheless keeps millions of people disenfranchised, under military occupation, yearning for their freedom.
It is an inspiring but disturbing voyage, truly unlike any other. This is the Israel that Haaretz covers, cherishes, criticizes and often castigates, uniquely dedicated as it is to an unvarnished truth that is making of a true newspaper and the underpinning of a real democracy. These are our moments in time, Israel through our cameras, before your very eyes.