Israel’s Most Famous Photograph Teaches a Lesson in Greatness and Humility

April 21 2017

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.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israel & Zionism, Photography, Western Wall, World War II

 

Famous Novelists “Confront the Occupation” in the West Bank—and Celebrate Themselves

June 27 2017

To produce the collection Kingdom of Olives and Ash, the writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman gathered a group of novelists, arranged for them to be shown around Israel for a few days by anti-Israel activists, and had each of them write an essay about the experience. Matti Friedman surveys the results:

Chabon and Waldman tell us on the very first page of a visit to Israel in 1992, which they remember vividly as a time of optimism, when the “Oslo Accords were fresh and untested.” But their memory must be playing tricks, because the Oslo Accords happened in the fall of 1993. Chabon and Waldman, who live in Berkeley, CA, are accomplished writers, but the reader needs a few words about what they’re up to here. Do they have special expertise to offer? Israel is probably the biggest international news story over the past 50 years, so is there a reason they decided the world needs to know more about it and not, say, Kandahar, Guantanamo, Congo, or Baltimore?

The essays vary in tone and quality, but experienced journalists covering the Israel/Palestine story will recognize the usual impressions of reporters fresh from the airport. Cute Palestinian kids touched my hair! Beautiful tea glasses! I saw a gun! I lost my luggage, and that seems symbolic! Arabs do hip-hop! The soldiers are so young and rude!

The writers interview the same people who are always interviewed in the West Bank, thinking it’s all new, and believe what they’re told. . . . Everything is described with a gravitas suggesting that the writers haven’t spent much time outside the world’s safer corners. [Dave] Eggers devotes two whole pages to an incident on the Gaza border, where one Israeli guard said he couldn’t pass and then a different one came and let him through. Dave, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay. . . .

What [this book is] really about is the writers. Most of the essays aren’t journalism but a kind of selfie in which the author poses in front of the symbolic moral issue of the time: here I am at an Israeli checkpoint! Here I am with a shepherd! That’s why the very first page of the book finds Chabon and Waldman talking not about the occupation, but about Chabon and Waldman. After a while I felt trapped in a wordy kind of Kardashian Instagram feed, without the self-awareness.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Anti-Zionism, Idiocy, Israel & Zionism, Journalism, West Bank