Photographer David Rubinger, who chronicled Zionist achievements for decades, has died at 92. His photographs represent a Zionist view of mid-to-late twentieth century Israeli history; late Israeli president Shimon Peres once called him “the photographer of the nation in the making.” In a statement, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, “David eternalized history as it will be forever etched in our memories.”
Rubinger was born in Vienna and escaped to Palestine through Italy as a teenager after the Nazis annexed Austria. His father had fled to England, and his mother died in the Holocaust. His first camera was an Argus, “a parting gift from a French girlfriend he met while serving with the British Army in Europe in 1945,” reported The New York Times. “She gave it to him as he boarded a train on his way back to his adopted home in Palestine.” In 1997, in the middle of what would become a six-decade career, he received the prestigious Israel Prize for journalism, becoming the first photographer to do so.
Rubinger had an unparalleled and unprecedented degree of access to politicians and government leaders. Reportedly, he was the only photographer allowed in the Knesset cafeteria. This level of intimacy is evident in his iconic images, including many portraits of Israeli leaders, such as Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres. He documented the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon War, Israeli Jewish settlers celebrating the founding of one of the first settlements in the post-1967 occupied West Bank, and a Palestinian uprising in the 1980s. His most famous photo, and one of the most famous Israeli photographs of all time, is an iconic Zionist image depicting Israeli paratroopers standing at the Western Wall in June 1967 after the Israeli capture of Jerusalem.
The photo, which author Yossi Klein HaLevi called “the most beloved Jewish photographic image of our time,” was recreated in 2007, forty years after the original, with the same subjects. Now aged and grey, sans helmets and uniforms, the former soldiers do not look like heroes or militants but like regular people; in that way, the recreation is just as epochal as the original.