The Israeli general and politician Moshe Dayan was one of the most iconic and photogenic figures in the country's history. We dove into the National Library collections and selected a handful of pictures that captured both historic and personal moments in his eventful life
No deep dive into the dark recesses of the archives was required here.
Moshe Dayan was a star attraction for Israel’s leading photographers during the early years of Jewish statehood. In fact, narrowing down the selection of photographs presented here was no easy feat. Dayan had always been drawn to the cameras, and the cameras were drawn to him.
Among the photographers who frequently shot the young IDF Chief of Staff was Benno Rothenberg, a colorful figure in his own right and a prominent professional cameraman in Israel who shared Dayan’s love of archaeology. Shortly before his death, Rothenberg deposited his 50,000 photographs in the trusty hands of collector Zvi Meitar, as did two other leading photographers – Boris Carmi and Moshe Levin. The digitization of these collections has recently been completed, in cooperation with the Zvi and Ofra Meitar Family Fund. The photos are now available online on the National Library of Israel website.
It is also worth mentioning the work of photographer Dan Hadani. From 1965 and until the year 2000, Hadani managed the Israel Press and Photo Agency (IPPA), documenting countless events in the history of the State of Israel: wars, elections, protests, social struggles, settlement projects, ceremonies, concerts, various cultural events and more – all together nearly a million frames. This collection was transferred to the National Library several years ago, with almost half a million images now accessible through the Library catalog.
In addition to the above, a number of unique, special photographs of Moshe Dayan were deposited at the National Library in 2017 as part of his son Assi Dayan’s personal archive. Several more photos come from the Bitmuna Collection and the Ben Zvi Institute Archive. All of these are made accessible on the National Library of Israel website as part of the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection.
Matan Barzilai, head of the Archives Department at the National Library of Israel, took part in the preparation of this article.
By Three Things a Person Is Known
Chava Levine shares a bit of what she learned from working on the personal archive of Professor Dov Noy, who was described as "the world's foremost Jewish folklorist". The archive is now deposited at the National Library of Israel.
Dov Noy as a young man, the Dov Noy Archive at the National Library of Israel
I never met the person whose entire life I archived.
I did see him once, though. An old man, stooped over, indistinguishable from the myriad of old men who haunt the halls of universities the world over. He used to shuffle through the corridors of the Hebrew University, slowly, as if he had done that walk a thousand times before.
“You see that man? That’s Dov Noy.”
He had been a legend in his time. A giant of a researcher, a good-looking, charismatic professor whose reputation follows him even now, eight years after his death. As I tell people about my work in the archives of the National Library of Israel, the response is invariably, ‘Ah yes! I met him/studied with him/went to his Open House events. He introduced me to my spouse/helped me get this job/changed the course of my career. He was such a wonderful man.’
Getting to know someone through their archive is not like getting to know someone in real life. I don’t know his favorite color. I don’t know what he liked to eat. I don’t know what the sound of his voice was or even how tall he was.
What I do know is this: I know his handwriting, almost better than I know my own. I know he had a phenomenal memory, and kept in touch with thousands of people around the world. I know that he survived the Holocaust almost by chance, leaving his warm and loving home in Kolomyia (then Poland, now Ukraine) at the young age of 18 to study at the Hebrew University. I know that he met his brother, the only surviving member of his immediate family, in the refugee camps in Cyprus. However, I don’t know how it affected him. I don’t know how he felt. I don’t know if he ever dreamed he was back home and awoke thinking he smelled his grandmother’s chicken soup.
I know that he dedicated his life’s work to collecting folk tales and stories, and his brother Meir devoted his to collecting songs. I know that his memory was truly astounding, and that his own teacher, Stith Thompson, wrote of his intellect that “I think my other students will not object when I say that Dov was one of the most brilliant disciples I have ever had.” I know he had a predilection for collecting (or perhaps a dislike of recycling bins) and his archive includes such curios as Welsh museum pamphlets, wedding invitations from the 1950s, and Dr. Rabbi Max Grunwald’s 1930 Austrian passport.
Thanks to working on this archive, I now know that people used to own carbon-copy notebooks. I learned that a service used to exist which would cut out newspaper clippings for you. I learned of the importance of letters, postcards, and the postal service, and that back in the old days, people really knew how to write.
As we near the end of this project, I am left to ponder at the chasm between knowing someone through their papers, and knowing them as a person – the space between the written word and experienced life. Much has been written on the relationships between objects and people, and I’m sure more is yet to be written. This archive contains Dov Noy’s writings, his research, and his letters. After all this, I ask, can we know a person by their archive? I leave it to you to find out.
 Stith Thompson, 1996. A Folklorist’s Progress, quoted in Ben-Amos, D. (2014). Obituary: Dov Noy (1920-2013). The Journal of American Folklore, 127 (506), 467-469.
The Bedouin from the Galilee Who Tied His Fate to the Jewish State
Amos Yarkoni was a fierce warrior and a decorated officer. He made major contributions to Israel's security, was loved by his commanders and admired by his soldiers. The course of his life could have been completely different had he decided to fight the Jewish settlers instead of joining them.
Amos Yarkoni receiving the Alon Prize, 1985. Photo: Ilan Ossendriver, the Dan Hadani Collection at the National Library of Israel
The day before he was set to be executed, Amos Yarkoni and two of his comrades, all three bound and chained, managed to escape from the deep pit in which they had been thrown by the Arab gang that captured them. Yarkoni, who was then still known as Abd el-Majid Hidr, a member of the Bedouin al-Mazarib tribe, had been expelled from his community as a traitor, and ordered to sign a letter admitting he had assisted the Zionist enemy. When he failed to comply, he was sentenced to death. It was the late 1930s, the period of the British Mandate in the Land of Israel, and Abd el-Majid Hidr had begun to forge courageous friendships with people from Nahalal, a moshav – a cooperative Jewish farming community – located near his village, Na’ura.
He met his friends from Nahalal when he was a teenager. He was a shepherd, and they guarded Nahalal’s fields. The occasional quarrels and daily friction turned into friendships over time, and when Hidr realized that the hostilities of local Arab gangs were directed not only at his Jewish friends, but also at other Arab families, he decided to begin cooperating with the people of Nahalal.
In 1947, he was 26 years old and working as a messenger at the oil refineries outside the city of Haifa, when he witnessed a massacre perpetrated by Arab workers on their Jewish peers, in which 39 Jewish workers were killed and 51 were wounded. This had happened shortly after an Irgun grenade attack had killed 6 Arab workers. Realizing then how waves of incitement led to the unnecessary killing of innocent people, he made his decision: “I saw then that the Jews are a small people in need of help, and I have it in my blood—when I see people fighting, I always come to the aid of the weak,” he told Maariv.
He contacted his friend Oded Yanai from Nahalal, who enlisted him in the IDF Minorities Unit, which was established in late 1948. A year later, after completing a military training course, he became the Israeli army’s first Bedouin squadron commander. By the age of 33 he had become an IDF officer, determined to take part in the defense of the State of Israel.
Shaken by yet another violent incident, Abd el-Majid Hidr decided to deepen his ties with the Jewish people: a series of murders and revenge killings among the Bedouin and Druze communities was what led him to change his name, and from that point he became “Amos Yarkoni.” He chose the name Yarkoni as it includes the Hebrew root Y-R-K (ירק), which is associated with the color green. The word hidr or khidr has a similar association in Arabic.
Yarkoni was a decorated officer, who made an invaluable contribution to the defense of Israel’s security. His tracking skills made him famous among his peers and commanders, who were happy to share stories and anecdotes about his abilities: “I accompanied Amos on one of the chases. I couldn’t figure out how he was able to spot the tracks of some infiltrators who escaped with a few cows. He saw I was curious and said to me: ‘Look at the nibbled grass. The cows they took ate some along the way.’ I thought I had learned something. An hour later I said to him: ‘Here, here is where the cow ate.’ Amos laughed, and said: ‘Don’t you know that a cow isn’t going to eat those bitter weeds?’” recalled Maj. Gen. Rechavam Zeevi in an article about Yarkoni. In addition to Zeevi, Yarkoni also counted Moshe Dayan among his close friends.
During his army service, Yarkoni was injured several times in confrontations with infiltrators. He suffered a severe injury to his leg and even lost his left hand. Yarkoni established special tracking units while serving alongside Israel’s elite special forces, and toward the end of his service commanded “Shaked,” an independent unit tasked with locating, stopping and capturing infiltrators, spies, intelligence personnel and Arab guerillas along the borders of Egypt and Jordan. Yarkoni was decorated with the Medal of Distinguished Service and received three citations for bravery. In 1969, he retired from the IDF with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
At his farewell to the unit, he said: “I led the best of Jewish youth. I enjoyed watching them grow up at my side and I tried my best to be honest and decent toward them. I saw myself as a liaison between Arabs and Jews in my relationship with these young men. I told them: Guys, you have to learn Arabic. This border will not remain forever.”
Yarkoni lived with his family in the southern desert city of Beer Sheva, with his children attending the local schools. When his son wanted to volunteer for a naval commando unit and to enlist in the IDF officers’ training course, he encountered hesitation and reservations despite his father’s legacy. Eventually the youth overheard a phone call between his commanders, with one noting “his father was an IDF battalion commander, and it’s fine from a security standpoint”. Hurt and offended, Yarkoni’s son refused to join the officers’ course, even after Yarkoni demanded—and received—an apology for the incident. Another son was not called up for compulsory service until Yarkoni insisted.
Despite the difficulties and discrimination his family experienced after his retirement from military service, Yarkoni continue to strive for reconciliation and coexistence among all the country’s citizens. When he died in 1991, at the request of Rechavam Zeevi, Yarkoni was buried at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv.
The Rise and Fall of Jerusalem’s Rex Cinema
Everyone frequented this Jerusalem movie theater: Jews, Arabs and British soldiers. So why was it destroyed, not once but twice?
Left: Rex Cinema in the early 1940s. Photo: Pikwiki. Right: Rex Cinema in flames, 1937. Photo: The Rudy Goldstein Collection, Bitmuna
Today, Shlomzion Hamalka Street in Jerusalem is the main thoroughfare leading to the Mamilla Avenue mall and its fancy shops. On weekends and holidays, you can find many Israelis strolling along, sitting in the cafes or simply window-shopping down the street. Eighty years ago, this road was one of the main streets of British Mandatory Jerusalem. Arabs and Jews alike, dressed in their best, would enjoy the restaurants and cafes that dotted the area, and afterward catch a movie playing at the Rex Cinema located at the bottom of the street.
‘”How was the movie?’ we often asked. ‘The movie wasn’t anything special, but the fight after it was really fun!'”
This was how Eliyahu Nawi, the well-known Jerusalem storyteller, described his outings to Rex Cinema on Princess Mary Street in Mandatory Jerusalem, as it was known back then. Nawi recalled how at the end of a film starring the Arab singer Mohamed Abdel Wahab and the Jewish actress Leila Murad, a fight broke out among the Jewish and Arab moviegoers, instigated by the cinematic conflict between the characters in the film.
Rex Cinema was torn down a long time ago and Princess Mary Street became Shlomzion Hamalka Street (named after the Hasmonean Queen Salome Alexandra), but local historians still remember the daily screenings at the magnificent cinema in Mamilla, of which no trace remains. Although Nawi focused on the brawls after the screenings, the violence did not stop there, and after two attacks (some would call them acts of terrorism) by the Irgun, the magnificent 1,300-seat cinema, was destroyed and abandoned. Eventually a shopping center was built on its ruins by the Israel Brothers company.
Rex Cinema stood out among the movie theaters in Jerusalem during the British Mandate. While other cinemas operating at the time—Zion, Edison and Eden—were Jewish-owned, Rex Cinema was owned by Joseph Pascal Albina, an Arab-Christian businessman. Albina collaborated with many Jews on various projects, often defying the decisions of the Arab Higher Committee. He was also the owner of the film production compamny “Nile Films,” and founded Rex Cinema in order to screen his films there. Albina hired contractor Yona Friedman, a Jew, to build the cinema, but when the project was completed, Albina found himself short on funds, and instead of paying Friedman, he made him a partner in the cinema. Rex Cinema opened on June 6, 1938, and screened mostly Arab films alongside westerns and popular European movies. The cinema catered mostly to Jerusalem’s Arabs as well as to British soldiers, clerks and officials of the various mandatory institutions, but Jews also numbered among its patrons.
The First Attack
In May 1939, less than a year after Rex Cinema opened, the British Mandate Government published its infamous “White Paper”, announcing restrictions on Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel. The move was seen as a direct attack on the Jewish community in the country, and the Irgun quickly responded with a counter-attack. Yaakov “Yashka” Eliav (nicknamed “the velvet-eyed terrorist” by the British), who was the Irgun’s commander of operations and later one of the founders of the Lehi organization, recalls in his memoir that Rex Cinema was chosen because it was “inside the British government zone . . . and because of its location and modern facility it attracted the government’s top brass, as well as the upper echelons of local Arab society. The attack on the cinema was intended to strike at the heads of the British military, civilian and police authorities, as well as members of the audience who were among the leaders of the Arab public and supporters of the violent gangs.”
On May 29, Irgun members slipped into the cinema before the screening of the movie “Tarzan”. They proceeded to booby-trap the theater with explosives concealed within an ordinary-looking coat as well as bombs hidden in boxes of candy. At 8:30 pm, the explosives went off just as the famous MGM lion roared to signal the beginning of the film. The frightened crowd fled the theater only to find that the Irgun had set another trap for them. Members of the Jewish underground waiting nearby in Mamilla’s Muslim cemetery opened fire at the people attempting to flee. Five Arabs were killed, and 18 others were wounded: six British, ten Arabs and two Jews. The cinema suffered heavy damages, and the incident became the talk of the town. Following the attack on the theater, the British military commander in Jerusalem issued an order closing all cinemas in Jerusalem, along with other cultural institutions. The Irgun continued its attacks on various targets in the city, and it seemed as if this was the end of Rex Cinema. However, the outbreak of World War II provided a somewhat surprising revival. With the arrival of more British military personnel in the city came a renewed need for an English-speaking cinema. Rex’s owners moved swiftly to repair the building and reopened the theater at full capacity.
The Euphoric Years and a Sudden End
Throughout the 1940s, Rex Cinema served as a meeting place for Arabs, Jews and British in Jerusalem. Contrary to the memoirs of Irgun members, according to which the Jewish population of Jerusalem did not frequent the cinema, it seems that many in fact did. Hebrew newspapers published ads for films playing at the Rex alongside greetings for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In 1946, a rumor spread that the Jewish partners had quit the cinema but the management immediately came out with a special notice debunking the rumor.
Princess Mary Street was one of Jerusalem’s most modern and cosmopolitan streets during the Mandate era, and the Rex was the only downtown cinema open on Saturdays. On the building’s top floor there was also a small boutique cinema named simply, “Studio.” In an article in Al Hamishmar, Gabriel Stern described the atmosphere in Jerusalem in the 1940s, writing that the war years, ironically, were years of rapprochement and relative peace between the two peoples in Jerusalem. The cinema’s location made it an obvious meeting place for the various populations. In the interim period between the 1939 White Paper and the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1947, Jews felt quite comfortable there, especially on Friday nights and holiday eves. Iconic Israeli singer Yossi Banai nostalgically recalled going to matinees at the cinema with his friends Simon and Moise in one of his most famous songs. The midday screenings were always cheaper than the evening films. The euphoria continued at Rex Cinema until the evening of November 29, 1947.
Yossi Banai: “Me and Simon and Little Moise”
Following the UN declaration and ensuing protest against the Partition Plan, the Arab Higher Committee called for a three-day strike of the Arab population in Mandatory Palestine. The tense atmosphere among Jerusalem’s Arab residents eventually exploded. On the morning of December 2, 1947, an Arab mob attacked the commercial center in Mamilla, and its mostly Jewish shop owners. The British forces that were supposed to protect them focused mainly on pursuing the handful of Haganah defenders, while the rioters, most of them equipped with axes and knives, set fire to the shopping street and attacked the merchants. In retaliation, the Irgun set fire to Rex Cinema. As opposed to their first carefully planned attack, this time, the violence was more spontaneous. The Hebrew newspaper Herut carried a story about the attack, as retold by its commander, Moshe Solomon (“Natan”): We didn’t receive any orders for it, we were a total of five Irgun members […]. We arrived at Rex, broke down the doors and began tearing things apart, just like what we saw was going on across the shopping center. We set fire to the projection booth and the rest of the building […]. After the operation, I informed my superiors in the Irgun and they approved our actions after the fact.”
The highly flammable nitrite film reels ensured that the cinema would burn to the ground. The clouds of smoke billowing up into the sky were visible throughout the city, and were even caught on camera by some photographers. On that day, Rex Cinema, which had served Arabs, Jews and the British in Jerusalem, closed for good. The building stood in ruins until the 1960s, when the present-day shopping center was built on the site.