newsIsrael at War

Paratrooper at center of iconic Six-Day War photo dead at 81

The photo was nicknamed in Hebrew "The Crying Paratroopers" or "Paratroopers at the Western Wall."

Yitzhak Yifat (center) and other Israeli paratroopers reach the Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 7, 1967. Photo by David Rubinger/GPO.
Yitzhak Yifat (center) and other Israeli paratroopers reach the Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 7, 1967. Photo by David Rubinger/GPO.

The central figure in an iconic 1967 photograph of three paratroopers at the liberated Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem died on Saturday. Yitzhak Yifat was 81.

Yifat, 24 at the time the photo was taken, can be seen in the center of the photograph holding his helmet. The powerful image was taken just after the Old City was freed from Jordanian occupation during the Six-Day War.

Yifat, one of the first paratroopers to enter the Old City, is seen with fellow paratroopers Zion Karasenti and Haim Oshri.

They appear visibly moved as they gaze upwards at the Western Wall, which is the outer supporting wall of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

The photo was nicknamed in Hebrew “The Crying Paratroopers” or “Paratroopers at the Western Wall.”

Their emotion was due in part to the fact that under Jordanian rule, (1949-1967), Jews were barred from entering the Old City.

The period of Jordanian rule of the eastern part of Jerusalem has been referred to as “among the most repugnantly intolerant of all.” 

Jordan destroyed all but one of the 35 synagogues in the eastern part of Jerusalem. They also desecrated the cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used tombstones for roads and latrines.

Tourists wanting to visit had to present baptismal certificates or other proof they weren’t Jews.

“Everyone talked about the Western Wall all the time, but we were new and we had never been there. That day was the first time any of us had ever been there,” Oshri told Channel 2 in 2017.

The photo was taken by David Rubinger, who died in 2017. An acclaimed photographer, he won the Israel Prize for Communications in 1997.

“I hardly remember the moment Rubinger took a picture of us. I remember that during the photoshoot Rubinger dropped to the floor and clicked his camera. Rubinger was a good man, a lover of the Israeli people and Israel and an excellent professional photographer,” Yifat said a few years ago of Rubinger, according to The Jerusalem Post.

After the war, Yifat became an obstetrician-gynecologist.

Just before the war, he was a grade-school teacher. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon tweeted on July 2:

“In 1967, I was 11 years old. My school teacher was a man by the name of Yitzhak Yifat. One day, he didn’t show up to class. He remained absent the day after & I didn’t know what happened. The 6 Day War broke out & I finally found my teacher—on the front page of the newspaper.”

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