After the War of Independence and the establishment of the State of Israel the city was divided, with the heart of the Jewish section of Jerusalem bounded by Ben Yehuda Street, King David Street and Jaffa Road. In those days it was impossible to walk anywhere in the center without bumping into half the people with whom one was acquainted. It was a small place and everyone knew everyone else. Certain areas were of course closed off to us, such as the Old City, which was under the occupation of the Jordanians. Young Israeli men, needing to demonstrate their bravado, would prove this by nipping over the border and coming back with trophies, such as two tickets for a cinema, which was ‘on the other side.’ They would then proudly show off their acquisitions at Fink’s Bar, the meeting place for anyone who was anyone in Jerusalem. Their exploits did not always end happily, however. At the time there was a popular song by Arik Lavi, called ‘The Red Rock.’ It referred to the red rocks of Petra in the south of Jordan. Critics claimed that this song encouraged young Israelis, in the 1960’s, to cross the border into Jordan where several of them were killed. In one case, two youngsters were caught and horribly mutilated by Bedouin. Their body parts were returned and dumped unceremoniously in two sacks at the Mandelbaum Gate, the crossing point between the two sides of the City. I was there to photograph this gruesome sight. These youthful exploits were the ultimate ‘rite of passage’ for headstrong males – to get to Petra and back, undetected. Unfortunately they were not always successful, so much so that the Government asked the radio station to stop playing the song, as they feared that it was a positive incentive to foolhardy young men to risk their lives. The radio station complied.
Fink’s Bar was more than just a drinking place, it was an institution and owned by Kurt Rothschild, known to everyone as Dave. Dave used to be the head waiter of a bar owned by a Mr Fink, from whom he bought the place, kept the name and transformed it into something unique. Fink’s became recognised worldwide and was voted by Readers Digest as one of the world’s most famous bars along with Harry’s Bar in Venice. The place was a success largely because of the personality of Dave. He was the epitome of the ideal typical restaurateur, overflowing with bonhomie and goodwill towards all his clients each of whom he never failed to greet by name. The walls of his bar were filled with paintings by artists, many of whom became successful in their later years, but who, when they were starting out, would happily exchange a painting for a hot meal. Shelves covered the walls, and these were crammed full of gifts that friends and patrons brought him from all over the world. Anni and I never went abroad without bringing something back for Fink’s. Dave was unusual in that he treated all his clients, whether rich or poor, exactly the same. On one occasion Henry Kissinger, when on a visit to Israel, sent his emissary to order a table for dinner, with the special request that the bar be closed to the general public because of security requirements. Dave told the envoy that Mr Kissinger was very welcome any time to come and eat at the bar, but that there was no way he would turn away any one of his regular clients in order to accommodate even Mr Kissinger.
Dave was also legendary for his discretion. One evening Anni had gone there with a male friend of ours. The next night she and I dined there together, but on entering the restaurant Dave acted towards her as though he had not seen her for ages. I reassured him that he could relax as I already knew that Anni had been there the previous night and with whom. She also told me that, during the 1956 Sinai Campaign, many of his male clients were away fighting so the bar was largely filled with the wives of these men. Ever the gentleman, he told his ‘regulars’ to stay until after he closed at 11.30, whereupon he would pile them into his Studebaker and take them to their homes to make sure they got back safely. During the War of Attrition I was asked by LIFE magazine to do a story about the prevailing mood in Israel. These were difficult days when there were daily casualties on the Suez Canal front and we dreaded listening to the news for fear of hearing something bad, but at the same time we could not quite bring ourselves not to listen. Then, as now, the news was issued on the hour. I thought about how I could best illustrate these tense times, and decided that I would photograph Fink’s Bar. The image shows Dave behind the counter, a radio beside him and a large crowd of people listening with rapt attention to the latest news. This picture of mine illustrated the article.
The city had been divided very much along the lines of what we had captured and the Jordanians had managed to retain. Consequently the 'Green Line' went winding through the city creating many areas of so called 'No Man's Land'. Quite a number of new immigrants, who chose to live in Jerusalem, found that the only places they could afford to settle were those unoccupied houses adjacent to Green Line that had been abandoned. Many of these homes had one side which faced the Jordanian positions and were therefore exposed to sniper fire. Areas that were particularly vulnerable were Yemin Moshe, which lay directly opposite the walls of the Old City and Musrara. I remember taking pictures of young children playing in the rubble directly beneath a Jordanian military position located on David's Tower at the Jaffa Gate. Too frequently these children wandered by mistake across the border and it took the concerted efforts of the Mixed Armistice Commission, established under the UN, to get them returned to their families. Other streets in the area were considered so dangerous, being in direct sight line of the Jordanians, that one had to dash hurriedly across to avoid sniper fire.
Many of my stories involved incidents in and around No Man's Land during the period of nineteen years between the War of Independence and the Six Day War. They were not always tragic. I observed with my camera an amusing little ceremony which took place every morning, when an Israeli police officer would meet with his Jordanian counterpart in order to swap newspapers – The Jerusalem Post in exchange for the equivalent from Jordan. One of my very first assignments that appeared in LIFE also took place here. I received a telephone call from the Israeli representative on the Mixed Armistice Commission, Major Arieh Doron, who tipped me off about a good story. A Catholic hospital called Notre Dame was located exactly on the Green Line. A terminally ill woman who was in the hospital, had leaned out of the window of her room, opened her mouth and her false teeth had fallen into the rubble of No Man's Land below. The MAC decided to try and retrieve these teeth and sent into the area an Israeli officer, three Catholic nuns from the hospital and a French Commandant, the latter clutching a huge white flag of truce in his hand. I went with them. The ground was strewn with garbage, barbed wire, and the detritus of years of neglect. Trees and weeds had forced their way up through the tarmac of what used to be a road. We also faced the risk of land mines that could have been left there from the 1948 conflict. The chance of finding a set of teeth in this wilderness was fairly remote - the proverbial needle in a haystack. We wandered around for a while looking through the rubble when suddenly Sister Augustine spied something, bent down and raised her hand exultantly up to the heavens. In her fingers she was triumphantly clutching the lost dentures. LIFE published the illustrated story under the title 'A Tale of Some Teeth'. Everyone was very happy with the outcome with the exception of the French Commandant. He complained that the dignity and honor of his French officer’s rank had been severely tarnished by the triviality of such a story.
One issue that brought both sides of the conflict together was the problem that each faced from the preponderance of rabid dogs and jackals which paid no heed to borders. This was the first time that I actually spent several hours in No Man's Land accompanying veterinary officers from both sides as they spread poisoned meat around to attract the animals. This story ran in the London Picture Post. It was whilst covering this particular assignment that I took a memorable picture of a Jordanian soldier handing a cup of tea across the barbed wire to an Israeli paratrooper – a very rare sight, and an encouraging one, at a time when it seemed easier for us to get to the moon than to cross the border into the Old City.
A conciliatory event that took place every 24th December was the occasion when Christians from Israel were permitted to cross the border at the Mandelbaum Gate on their way to midnight mass in Bethlehem. Tents had been erected in the square outside the Gate where documents were processed by officials from both sides, in an effort to facilitate the passage of visitors. The atmosphere was festive, as befits Christmas and once again I photographed a rare scene of Israeli army girls standing side by side with Jordanian legionnaires as the pilgrims walked through -an appropriate sight for the season of peace and goodwill. By the way not too many people know from where the name Mandelbaum is derived. The Mandelbaum family had a store in downtown Jerusalem on Jaffa Road and owned a house in Musrara. In 1948 their house served as one of the most forward positions of the Hagana. Later, when it was decided that this spot would become the transfer point for diplomats, journalists and the UN, it simply became known as the Mandelbaum Gate. Its name is recognised world wide. It has probably done a lot more for the Mandelbaum name that the store he had in Jaffa Road. It also became the title for a best seller by British author Muriel Spark.
“After the War of Independence” is chapter 8 from the book on memories by David Rubinger “Israel Through My Lens - Sixty Years As a Photojournalist” written by Ruth Corman, with a 130 photographs by Rubinger reprinted with courtesy of Yedioth Ahronoth. Foreword by Shimon Peres. Published by Abbeville Press, ISBN 13:978-0-7892-0928-3. NIS 159.The book has also been translated into Hebrew by Keter Publishing House, NIS 149
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