Egyptian & Israeli Soldiers, 1948
This is a picture of Egyptian and Israeli soldiers taken during the War of Independence in 1948 with a soldier called Ya’akov Yaniv standing in the centre of the photograph. Surprisingly, none of the soldiers are carrying guns.
During the War of Independence, in October 1948, Ya’akov Yaniv was part of the 64th battalion which, along with two other battalions (Moriah and Beit Horon), was sent on a mission to capture Beit Jala. During the mission, six members of the Moriah battalion were killed, and the soldiers retreated having failed to capture their target. Two of the fallen soldiers were left behind on the battlefield.
A month and a half later, Yaniv and a group of Israeli soldiers were observing the enemy from their observation point on the Malha hill, when they saw some Egyptian soldiers descend from their fortress and call out to them that they had two bodies for retrieval. Yaniv was shocked and suspicious but took the risk and, taking his camera with him, he crossed the enemy line, where the Egyptian unit commander showed him the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers. While Yaniv waited for gurneys and blankets for his fallen comrades, the Egyptian commander offered him a cup of tea, and they exchanged war stories.
This symbolised a moment of humanity during the terrible battles of the War of Independence, and Yaniv managed to take photographs of that momentary truce. This is one of these photographs.
After the soldiers returned to their respective sides of the border, Yaniv’s film was confiscated by his commander who considered his actions to have been reckless, endangering both himself and his fellow soldiers. After consultation with Moshe Dayan, a senior officer at the time, the film was returned to Yaniv.
In later years, Yaniv was encouraged to donate the photographs to the National Library of Israel, where they are stored today.
Years afterwards, Yaniv decided to do some research about the soldiers whose bodies he had retrieved. He discovered their names – Zvi Kaner and Shmuel Shimansky – and found out that both men had been Holocaust survivors, the sole survivors of their families. They had been in Israel only a few months before the war broke out and they enlisted in the army.
Every year on the eve of Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day), Yaniv lays wreathes on their graves at Mt. Herzl.
This resource can be used in Jewish Studies classes in preparation for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The photograph can also be used in Jewish History or Politics classes on Israel’s wars and the peace process.
Jewish History teachers can also use this resource when teaching about the aftermath of the Holocaust and the young survivors who arrived in Israel and immediately joined the combat in the War of Independence.
When was this photo taken?
Where was this photo taken?
Who are the people in the photograph?
For what occasion was this photograph taken?
Reading Between the Lines
Look at the clothing and appearance of the people in the photograph. What does this tell you about who they are?
These men are soldiers in both the Israeli and Egyptian armies.
What expected army accessory is absent from this photograph?
Why do you think this is the case?
Can you identify the Egyptian and Israeli soldiers? How?
What is the story behind this photograph?
Is this a typical situation during war?
Do you think Ya’akov Yaniv did the right thing?
Why do you think the Egyptian soldiers decided to allow the Israeli soldiers to retrieve the bodies?
How many soldiers in the War of Independence were Holocaust survivors?
Read this article to find out more.
Create a monument to honour the Holocaust survivors who died as soldiers in the War of Independence.