It was “the epic encounter that transformed the Middle East,” journalist Abraham Rabinovich says in his book on the Yom Kippur War.
On October 6, 1973, Egypt launched a surprise attack on Israeli soldiers at the east bank of the Suez Canal. It was the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, when many soldiers were praying in synagogues.
“Arab armies made impressive advances with their up-to-date Soviet weaponry. Iraqi forces soon joined the war, and Syria received support from Jordan,” History.com notes.
Israel fought back and won.
But the war, also called the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, “is etched deep in Israel’s collective psyche due to the heavy losses sustained in the fighting and because of the country’s lack of preparedness,” Time.com says.
Forty years later, photographer Micha Bar-Am is taking you inside the war that changed dynamics and psyches throughout the Middle East.
Risking his life repeatedly during the war, Bar-Am worked his way into the Sinai to Israel’s south and the Golan Heights in the north to capture striking images exposing parts of the war’s reality.
“I don’t even remember where I slept most of the nights,” he says. “I was hitchhiking once on a jeep, once on a tank, once even on a crossing raft.”
Looking back, the 84-year-old father of three and grandfather of five can’t believe what he did.
“I can’t really understand the urge for young adventurous people to do suicidal things like covering war with a weapon called a camera,” he says.
In fact, Bar-Am has photographed every war Israel has been involved in since 1956.
“Photographers are drawn like butterflies or fireflies to dramatic events that yield stronger images,” he says.
“I’m a kind of chronicler, a representative of history.”
He had no agenda, but needed the Israeli military’s permission to enter restricted areas, he says.
Asked about his memories of the war, he says, “In a certain sense, it’s like asking an American what does he remember of 9-11. Because both were very traumatic events for the peoples.”
Having been surprised by both Egypt and Syria remains a “traumatic scar of the Yom Kippur war,” he says.
But the war “turned into a military victory, and this is also something one has to remember.”
“It is part of our collective memory.”
The lesson for Israel was “never to be complacent or arrogant” about its strength, he says. “But also that you have to feel for the others. You have to understand your neighbors. They have their ambitions and wishes.”
Asked whether there’s a lesson for the entire world, he says, “I’m a bit skeptical of that. Because if people would learn the lesson of this or any other war things might look better. But look how many wars are happening now.”
- Josh Levs, CNN
Forty of Bar-Am’s photographs from the Yom Kippur war will be featured in an exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, marking the 40th anniversary of the war.