ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Solomonic ruling: 2 paratroopers can claim single spot in iconic Six Day War image

The leftmost soldier in the 1967 photo of paratroopers at the Western Wall has been identified as both Zion Karasenti and Abraham Bornstein; a Tel Aviv court upholds both claims

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

The iconic Rubinger photo of three paratroopers standing at the recaptured Western Wall in June 1967 (David Rubinger/GPO)
The iconic Rubinger photo of three paratroopers standing at the recaptured Western Wall in June 1967 (David Rubinger/GPO)

A long-running legal saga between two veterans of the Six Day War over the identity of one of the paratroopers in the celebrated picture of IDF soldiers liberating the Western Wall in 1967 has finally been resolved: both of them can claim to be the original of the photo.

“Both sides agree to put the argument behind them and transmit to the people of Israel a message of unity and reconciliation, in which the court will not be required to decide the question of [who is] photographed in the photo, while both sides will continue to believe in the truth they hold,” wrote Tel Aviv District Court Deputy President Benny Sagi, who brought about a compromise over the matter in his ruling on Thursday.

The renowned photo taken by David Rubinger showing three soldiers from the IDF’s 55th Paratroopers Brigade at a moment of reverence in front of the Western Wall became an iconic image of Israel’s dramatic victory over its Arab enemies in the lightning conflict of June 1967.

The picture shows paratroopers Haim Oshri, Itzik Yifat, and a third soldier on the left, long claimed to be Zion Karasenti, after capturing the Jewish holy site from the Jordanians during the battle for Jerusalem.

But a dispute over the identity of the leftmost paratrooper in the famous picture erupted three years ago when the family of the now-deceased Abraham Borstein, who served in the 55th Paratroopers Brigade and fought in the battle to liberate the Old City of Jerusalem, claimed that their father was the soldier in question, contradicting Karasenti who also served in the 55th Brigade during the battle to liberate the holy city and for many years claimed that he was the third soldier in the image.

What started as a dispute in 2021 over a Wikipedia page then blew up into an article in Yedioth Ahronoth recounting the claims of Borstein’s family (Borstein himself died in 1996). This resulted in legal threats against Karasenti demanding he state publicly that he was not the soldier in the picture, a subsequent defamation suit by Karasenti against the Borstein family, and then a countersuit for defamation against Karasenti.

From L to R, Haim Oshri, Dr. Itzik Yifat and Zion Karasenti stand in front of the Western Wall in April 2017, 50 years after the three former paratroopers were resonantly photographed at the holy site by David Rubinger immediately after its capture in the Six Day War. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Borstein’s family hired forensic investigators to prove that it was their father who was the paratrooper in question, but Karasenti rejected their findings, while a Channel 12 investigation found that it was highly likely Karasenti was the third paratrooper.

On Thursday, Judge Sagi brought about a dignified compromise to the somewhat unseemly affair.

“Both sides have agreed that it is not possible to determine the question of who is in the picture taken by David Rubinger on June 7, 1967, certainly when there is no dispute that the two relevant people [were] brave warriors who participated in a series of battles, including the battle for the liberation of Jerusalem, and worked for the State of Israel and the security of Israel during one of the most difficult times the country ever knew and in the most courageous and worthy way imaginable,” wrote Sagi in his decision.

Having described the military service performed by both Karasenti and Borstein in the battle for the liberation of Jerusalem, the judge wrote that both sides would now respect the other’s claims, noting that both parties had even taken a picture together in the corridors of the Tel Aviv court as a “symbolic act” demonstrating that the dispute was now behind them.

“The court thanks the sides for their behavior and salutes Mr. Karasenti and the late Mr. Borstein for their contribution to Israel’s security,” Sagi concluded.

Attorneys for the Borstein family, Oron Schwartz and Yogev Narkis, stated in response to the ruling that they “applaud the poetic justice that leaves both options valid, existent and possible,” adding, “Sometimes this is the way to rule on historic decisions.”

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