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David Rubinger

(1924 - 2017)

David Rubinger was an Israeli photographer. His famous photo of three Israeli paratroopers after the recapture the Western Wall in the Six-Day War has become a defining image of the conflict. Shimon Peres called Rubinger "the photographer of the nation in the making".

Rubinger was born an only child in Vienna, Austria in 1924. When he was in high school, Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss and with the help of Youth Aliyah, he escaped to Palestine via Italy and settled in a Jordan Valley kibbutz. His father had already fled to England, but his mother died in the Holocaust. He served with the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in World War II. While on leave in Paris, a French girlfriend gave him a camera as a present, and he discovered he enjoyed photography. He took his first professional photo of Jewish youths climbing a British tank to celebrate the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, creating the Israeli state.

After the war, he visited his father in England and learned that he had other relatives in Germany. There, he met his cousin Anni and her mother, who had survived the Holocaust. He offered to marry her in order to secure her emigration to Palestine, but the marriage of convenience ended up lasting more than 50 years until her death.

Upon his return to Israel, Rubinger opened a photography business in Jerusalem, but broke into photojournalism when Uri Avnery offered him a position at HaOlam HaZeh in 1951, where he worked for two years. He then joined the staff of Yedioth Ahronoth, followed by The Jerusalem Post. His break came in 1954 when he was asked to shoot a story for Time–Life. He ended up working for them for more than 50 years. His first internationally published photo for them was of a nun holding a set of dentures that had belonged to a patient who had dropped them from a Catholic hospital window over the Green Line and into Jordanian territory. The nun was allowed to cross the border only after much negotiation.

As Time–Life's primary photographer for the region, Rubinger covered all of Israel's wars and was given unprecedented access to governmental leaders — he was the only photographer allowed in the Knesset cafeteria. With the sort of access and exposure that allows the subjects to disregard the photographer's presence, Rubinger was able to take memorable photos of Golda Meir feeding her granddaughter or quiet moments between Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, for example.

In 1997, Rubinger was awarded the Israel Prize, in communications — photography, becoming the first photographer to receive the award.

Rubinger and his wife Anni had a "tempestuous" (in his own words) marriage. He admitted in his autobiography Israel Through My Lens that he had numerous affairs over the years, but he also faithfully took care of her in the last years of her life when she was stricken with cancer. The couple had two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

After Anni's death, Rubinger at age 78 met Ziona Spivak, a Yemenite immigrant, with whom he had a relationship for two and a half years, although they never married. The relationship ended in tragedy when Ziona was murdered in her home in 2004 by her former gardener, Mohammad Mahmoud Sabarna, a Palestinian from the West Bank who entered the home and demanded that she give him 25,000 shekels, grabbing a knife and stabbing her to death when she refused.

Rubinger died on March 2, 2017, at age 92.  

Rubinger's most famous photo,
Paratroopers at the Western Wall

Paratroopers at the Western Wall

Rubinger's signature photograph is of paratroopers at the Western Wall, shortly after its recapture by Israeli forces in the Six-Day War. Shot from a low angle, the faces of (left to right) Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat, and Haim Oshri are framed against the wall. The three of them are framed with their backs toward the wall, gazing off into the distance, and Yifat (center) holds his helmet in his hand. Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi calls it "the most beloved Jewish photographic image of our time".

Prior to taking the photograph, Rubinger had been at Arish on the Sinai Peninsula when he heard a rumor that something big was going to happen in Jerusalem. He hopped aboard a helicopter ferrying wounded soldiers to Beersheba, although he didn't know its destination at the time. His car happened to be there, and he drove the rest of the way, at one point asking a hitchhiking soldier he had picked up to drive because he was too sleepy. He arrived in the Old City and after visiting quickly with his family, made his way to the wall. The space between the wall and the buildings in front of it was very narrow, so he lay down to get a shot of the wall itself, when the paratroopers walked by and he took several shots of them.

Twenty minutes later, Shlomo Goren arrived on scene with a shofar and a Torah scroll, whereupon Goren was hoisted upon the shoulders of the soldiers. It was an emotional scene and Rubinger by far preferred that one, but his wife Anni told him one of the paratrooper photos was better.

As part of his bargain with the Israeli Army that allowed him front-line access, he turned the negatives over to the government, who distributed it to everyone for a mere £2 each. It was then widely pirated as well. Although Rubinger was upset about his work being stolen, the photo's widespread distribution made it famous.

Rubinger continues to maintain that the photo is not very good, artistically speaking. "There are faces cut off. There’s some guy peeking over the shoulders. A good photograph, from an artistic point of view, is one where there is not one nonessential part in it," he stated in an interview. However, because there is such a strong emotional component to it, it has become an icon of Israel. Israeli Supreme Court Justice Misha'el Kheshin declared in 2001 that the photo had "become the property of the entire nation".