Foundation Stone of the Knesset, 1959
This photograph portrays the laying of the cornerstone of the new Knesset (Israeli parliament) building in 1959. The building was eventually opened in 1966. A number of Israeli flags can be seen in the background and large numbers of dignitaries who were attending this significant event in the history of the modern state. There is a man in the centre of the photo behind a microphone, addressing the participants who are all dressed in formal clothes. At the rear of the dais there are several people wearing military uniform.
During the first year of its existence, the Knesset was housed in several locations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In March 1950, the Knesset moved into the Frumin House in the centre of Jerusalem. This was supposed to be a temporary location – the building was designed for a bank – but the planning of a permanent building took longer than planned, and the Knesset remained there for sixteen years.
There was a competition to find a designer for the Knesset, but the result caused great controversy, best summarised in a letter sent by the speaker of the Knesset, Joseph Sprinzak, to the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Abba Eban, on November 12, 1957:
The jury… reached a unanimous decision that the first prize be given to the architect Klarwein… Contrary to the decision of the jury… and the sympathy for the plan in the public, a deadly storm broke out against the plan among the architects in Israel. One might say that a public of hundreds of architects in the country almost unanimously rejects Klarwein’s plan. This manifests itself in different ways, in writing and orally – some in an unworthy and vulgar manner, and some in a polite but totally negative manner, supported by objective proof regarding the essence of the building, which should be worthy of being a national building – the Knesset of Israel. Of course, one may also be suspicious of the sources of the objection by the architects of Israel to Klarwein's plan, but the fact is that the objection is total and very harsh. We are, thus, in a state of great embarrassment.
The building was eventually inaugurated in 1966, although the final building differed significantly from the original plans that had been submitted a decade earlier.
Jewish History teachers can use this photograph to explore the original foundation of the Knesset building as well as the revived status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Geography teachers can show this photograph when discussing the essential features of a capital city.
Politics teachers can use this resource as a trigger to discussions on the importance of the parliament in democratic nations.
Describe this photo.
What is taking place in this photo?
How are people dressed?
What does this tell us about the nature of this event?
How has the scene been decorated?
What machinery appears in the centre of the photo?
Reading Between the Lines
Where did the Knesset hold its meetings in the early years of the State of Israel?
Why did it move from place to place?
What year did this event take place?
Why did the organisers place flags around the event?
Why would this event have been considered so significant?
The decision about the designer of this important building was decided in an architectural competition.
Who won the competition?
What was the public’s reaction to the winning application? What was the reaction of other Israeli architects?
Have you visited the Knesset?
If so, what were your impressions of the building?
Have you visited the parliament in your own country or in another?
Compare these buildings to the Knesset.
Does a government require an imposing building from which to conduct its business?
Create a collage of photos of the exteriors and interiors of parliament buildings around the world.