With yesterday’s UN vote urging Israel to end to its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, we look back at one of modern Israel’s earliest settlements.
David Seymour wrote to his sister in 1951, “You can imagine how everything here is emotionally charged and moving”. The Magnum founder was standing in the middle of a Jewish settlement near Golan Heights when he took the photo of Baby Miriam, the first ever child born into the settlement of Alma (above).
Alma was a melting pot of Yemenite Jews, Tripolitanian Jews from Libya, and immigrants from Southeast Italy, most notably from the small village of San Nicandro. Twenty years earlier, a group of Italian Roman Catholics in that village underwent a mass conversion to Judaism under the influence of Donato Manduzio, a crippled war veteran turned mystic who self-taught himself the Old Testament.
For Seymour, born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw, whose Polish Jewish parents killed by the Nazis during the Second World War, Israel was an emotional place. After the war, he documented post-war Europe for UNICEF and frequently traveled to newly-formed Israel to photograph settlements and kibbutzes being set up.
Amidst the scenes of weddings, dancing, and olive groves were the snapshots of those improbable days: women carried water in brass jugs from reservoirs miles away even as Baby Miriam’s father supervises a pipeline construction work which is going to bring water from the source. A hardscrabble garden was planted on desert terrain. A tractor is paraded through the streets of Tel Aviv on Independence Day. Soldiers patrolled the border between the Negev Desert and Jordan. A woman mourned graveside at the funeral of a watchman killed during a border conflict.
Seymour himself was sucked into one of those conflicts; in November 1956, he was killed by Egyptian machine-gun fire four days after the armistice of the 1956 Suez War.