Photojournalist Recalls Israel's Modern History

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel recently celebrated its 62nd anniversary. Since its founding in 1948, few people have witnessed the span of Israel's modern history. But one man has not only witnessed it, he has chronicled that history with a camera.

More than 60 years ago, Israeli photojournalist David Rubinger began his career, just before the birth of the state of Israel.

"That gave me a chance that very few photographers have to cover a story, an entire story from A to Z," Rubinger said.

Through My Lens

Rubinger told his story - and Israel's - in a book called Israel Through My Lens. He documented those early historic days like the day in 1947 when the United Nations voted for the establishment for a Jewish state.

"People were dancing in the streets," Rubinger said. "The young kids on the morrow of the UN decision to establish the state of Israel climbed up on board a British armored car with the British police number on it and a British driver and a hand painted flag."

He began as a freelance cameraman and later worked for years as Time-Life magazine's photographer. He showed Israel's first years, its fight for independence, and the joy of Jews returning to the promised land from all over the world.

"The idealism, the feeling striving for equality," he said. "Social justice. Ashamed not to work."

During his career, he has photographed nearly all of Israel's leaders: from Jerusalem's legendary Mayor Teddy Kolleck, to its future Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Golda Meir at the Knesset and in her kitchen, Yitzak Rabin and his wife Leah having breakfast, then Israeli Gens. Rabin and Moshe Dayan during wartime and Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.

"Oh, his face was something," Rubinger said of Ben Gurion. "I have it on one of the covers of my book. Like granite. Strong like a rock."

He covered Israel's triumphs, capturing the jubilation after the successful raid on Entebbe. He showed Israel's suffering through its many wars.

"One of my dearest pictures is one taken in Aswan in 1980," Rubinger added. "Very, very intimate between two leaders after four wars and such intimacy."

Most Memorable Image

But Rubinger's most famous photograph came during the 1967 Six-Day War. For the first time in nearly 2,500 years, Israeli paratroopers captured Jerusalem's Old City and the famous Western Wall. When paratroopers came to the wall, Rubinger was there.

"In order to get any sort of perspective I had to shoot from the ground and I was lying down on the ground and shooting and these soldiers that walked by," he said. "I got three frames that were nearly identical."

Years later, Rubinger photographed those same three paratroopers back at the Western Wall. The men and their country have grown up.

"Grown up is the word," he said. "Gone is the beauty of childhood. The idealism of youth."

Since 1967 Rubinger feels Israel has made unwise decisions. He is very critical of many of Israel's policies, but as Israel celebrates one more anniversary, he says it has been a remarkable history.

"Summing up 62 years you still can not avoid realizing one thing," Rubinger said. "I think it's unprecedented in history that people did in 60 years what this country did."

*Originally broadcast on April 23, 2010.

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