Israeli history of the week: Early videotapes

JPost feature: A Library of Congress collection of photographs documenting Israel before creation of state.

November 8, 2012 13:08
3 minute read.

General Allenby. (photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)


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The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000 photographs and videos taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. They returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the building of Tel Aviv.

The first film made in the Holy Land (1897)

The collections generally focuses on the 22,000 still photos taken a century ago by photography pioneers, particularly the American Colony Photography Department in Jerusalem, and archived in the Library of Congress.

But in our research we also uncovered and published some of the earliest films taken in Palestine under Turkish and British rule. We now present them all in one place and encourage readers to forward other early films they may have uncovered.

1897 -- The first film (above) was made in 1897 by the Frenchmen Auguste Lumière and Louis Lumière. It shows a train leaving the Jerusalem train station. More information can be found here in an earlier posting.

[Do not adjust the sound on your computer; this is a silent movie.]

1913 -- This incredible hour-long 1913 film was lost for decades and recently found. It was prepared for the 11th Zionist Congress which met in Vienna in August 1913.  Four months earlier, in April, a film crew left Odessa by ship to prepare a film on the Life of the Jews of Palestine that would be shown at the Congress.  The producer,  Noah Sokolovsky, spent two months filming the cities, holy sites, and agricultural communities of Eretz Yisrael.

In 1997 the original film negative was found in France. The film is narrated in Hebrew by Israeli actor and singer Yoram Gaon.  More information was posted here last year.

1917 -- This rare film from the Yaakov Gross collection commemorates the entry into Jerusalem of General Edmund Allenby, commander of the British war effort in Palestine against the Turks and Germans.  The clip includes Allenby talking to T. E. Lawrence ("of Arabia) and Rabbi Jacob Meir, chief rabbi of the Sephardi community.

The film shows Allenby meeting with senior officers outside of the Jaffa Gate, including the Turkish commander of the Jerusalem police force who remained in the city to maintain order. Allenby made a point of walking into the Old City, and not riding, in deference to the city's holiness.


1918 -- This film clip was discovered in an Amsterdam Jewish family's collection and it represents clips of Jerusalem scenes. It is believed to have been taken in 1918, after the British captured Jerusalem from the Turks.

1921 -- A historic meeting was held in Jerusalem between local leaders and the British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel and the Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill. This film clip shows Rabbi Joseph Chaim Sonnenfeld, leader of the ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, chief rabbi of Palestine, and Rabbi Jacob Meir, chief rabbi of the Sephardi community taking their leave from the British officials. To the left of the doorway stands Emir Abdullah of Transjordan. Note the faint recognition between Kook and Abdullah. Later, Sonnenfeld met Abdullah in Amman.

1925 -- French banker Albert (Abraham) Kahn commissioned photographers to take tens of thousands of pictures around the globe, including the British Mandate of Palestine. The film clip below was done for Kahn by Jerusalem photographer Camille Sauvageot. The film below shows the Old City's gates, Jewish prayer at the Western Wall, Christian processions on Good Friday, and Muslims on the Temple Mount.

Special credit goes to Israeli film collector and archivist Yaakov Gross.

More photos can be viewed at

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