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Iconic IDF Six-Day War paratrooper passes away at age 81

Israeli paratroopers (Yitzhak Yifat in the center) stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Photo: David Rubinger/ GPO)

Dr. Yitzhak Yifat, one of three IDF paratroopers featured in a photo taken during the historic liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967, passed away on Saturday at age 81.

The State of Israel's victory against military forces from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria ranks among the most important events in modern Jewish history.

Yifat and his fellow IDF paratroopers – Chaim Oshri and Tzion Karasenti – became popular faces of the Six-Day War victory in a photograph taken by David Rubinger. The now-famous image was taken next to the ancient Jewish Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The iconic moment captured in Rubinger's photo represented how, for the first time in 2,000 years, the sacred site was once again under Israel's governance. During the Jordanian control of Jerusalem’s Old City from 1948 to 1967, Jews were denied entry to visit the most sacred sites in Jewish history.

In 2019, Yifat placed the emotional moment of the liberated Western Wall in its historical context.

“When we broke through to the Western Wall it was emotional in a way it’s hard to describe. I thought of my grandfather, may he rest in peace, of his history, how he always spoke of the Wall. He was not a fighter and did not get to see the Wall in our hands, so I felt it was for him,” Yifat recalled.

“I’m not a person who prays but all the religious soldiers began praying. I touched the Wall, put my hand on the stones. It’s a moment that’s always with me. Then we cut up a few papers, every person wrote his deepest wish, and we inserted the notes into the cracks,” he added.

The iconic Six-Day War photo became famous far beyond Israel and the Jewish world. Yifat recalled that his Polish-born neighbor showed him how it was published in a Polish newspaper.

“After the war, my neighbor who was a brand new immigrant from Poland, came running out to show me that my photo was in the Polish newspapers. I was shocked,” he said.

“We did become a symbol of our strength,” Yifat said.

Three years before, in 2016, Yifat re-enacted the iconic Six-Day War victory photo with his grandchildren standing next to him by the Western Wall, nearly 50 years after it was liberated by Israeli forces.

Yifat who belonged to the political left, was allegedly unhappy that the war led to Israel's long-term control over the large Arab population in Judea and Samaria.

“I don’t believe that we should be ruling over another nation,” Yifat reportedly said.

His political view was challenged by fellow paratrooper Karasenti, who responded: “How can you say that as an Israeli who fought for something after 2,000 years of longing? We returned the heart of the Jewish people to this land.”

Yifat is survived by three daughters and 10 grandchildren. His funeral is scheduled to take place on Sunday in his hometown of Ge’a, near the southern coastal city of Ashkelon.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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