Considering the Israeli photographer David Rubinger’s famous image of three Israeli paratroopers looking up at the Western Wall in June 1967, Meir Soloveichik writes:
The picture of the paratroopers is constantly compared with an American image: Joe Rosenthal’s immortalization of the moment that American Marines hoisted the Stars and Stripes aloft at Iwo Jima. But understanding the power of Rubinger’s picture should begin by noting the differences, rather than the similarities, between his photo and Rosenthal’s. The Iwo Jima image inspires because of an action that it illustrates; young men working in unison to plant a flag. . . .
In Rubinger’s photo, the emphasis is the exact opposite; what is stressed is not action but a sudden inaction. . . . After achieving the most famous Jewish military victory in 2,000 years—becoming the first Jewish soldiers to hold Jerusalem since Bar Kokhba’s rebellion—the soldiers stand still before the locus of Jewish longing. They suddenly seem, to paraphrase Milton Himmelfarb’s felicitous phrase, not actors but rather acted upon. . . .
This points to a [tension] at the heart of Zionism. Should Jewish achievement, one small people’s outsized impact on the world as it outlived all its enemies, be seen as a triumph of the human will, or as a miracle? Are Jews the primary actors in this story, or are they the acted upon? . . .
The answer is both. . . . Rubinger’s photo, of warriors who waged one of the most brilliant wars in military history suddenly standing still at the Wall, is thus the embodiment of Israel itself. Therein lies its allure. Zionism was predicated on the ability of human beings to achieve even the impossible: in Theodor Herzl’s formulation, “if you will it, it is no dream.” And it remains an immense, and majestic, human achievement—the return of a people to their land, making a desert into an Eden, creating a mighty military, and building the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Yet as Paul Johnson put it [in 1998], . . . “in the past century, over 100 completely new independent states have come into existence. Israel is the only one whose creation can fairly be called a miracle.” Israel is itself a symbol of both human achievement and divine mystery, and the combination of the two in Rubinger’s photo means he had somehow captured the essence of Israel itself.