Dissident writer and activist
Saturday 24 March 2007
Shimon Tzabar, journalist, writer, artist and activist: born Tel Aviv, Palestine 5 March 1926; married (two sons); died London 19 March 2007.
Shimon Tzabar was probably the only Israeli who could claim to have once been a member of all three anti-British underground groups active in Palestine before the establishment of Israel in 1948: Haganah, Etzel and Lehi (aka the Stern Gang). In the course of his long, jolly and very active life, he was many things for many people: a friend, a husband, a father, a lover, an artist, a cartoonist, a satirical writer, a mycologist, a journalist, a poet and an activist.
Tzabar immigrated to the UK in December 1967, disillusioned with the prospect of changing Israel's Zionist character and ending the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, which were taken by Israel during the war that broke out six months earlier. Despite having participated as a soldier in Israel's first three wars - the 1948 war that led to its establishment and to the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinian people, the Suez campaign of 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967 - Tzabar recognised the perils of the occupation from its early days.
In September 1967, he initiated the publication of a paid advertisement in the daily broadsheet Haaretz, signed by himself and 11 others, in protest against the occupation. The prophetic text read:
Foreign rule leads to resistance. Resistance leads to oppression. Oppression leads to terror and counter-terror. . . keeping the territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims.
Before emigrating, Tzabar had been a journalist for Haaretz, in which he wrote a column entitled "Kutzo Shel Tzabar" ("The Thorn of a Sabra"), and for the provocative left-leaning political weekly Haolam Haze ("This World") that was owned and edited by the journalist and politician Uri Avnery. Tzabar was involved in the first attempts at satire in the Israeli newspapers, a fact he was proud of until his very last days. In an autobiography he wrote for his sons and never published, Tzabar told of his decision to leave Israel:
"I just wanted to do something, to carry on the fight against the occupation abroad and then to return home. I still did not know how I would fight the occupation.
"It was only during the sea journey that I got the idea of publishing a satirical magazine in London. Satire is a good weapon, one that I was familiar with. It could match all the weapons that the Israeli army keeps in its arsenal, including their nuclear ones."
In London he began irregularly to publish a satirical magazine, Israel Imperial News.
He wrote 27 books in Hebrew, among them travel books, children's books, cookery books, novels, political satire and essays. He was also an amateur mycologist and published on the subject, including a CD-ROM of his watercolour illustrations of nearly 500 fungi. His The White Flag Principle: how to lose a war and why, a provocative and eye-opening thesis on the merits of losing wars as a vehicle for a nation's development, was published by Penguin in 1972.
Tzabar's paintings were loaded with snippets of life in the old, maybe naïve, days in Palestine. He also designed an alternative Israeli flag, showing two light blue stripes, as in the original, and a light blue tank in the middle replacing the Star of David. The flag appeared on posters carried by Israeli protesters during demonstrations against the war in Iraq in London in 2003.
A publication that got Tzabar into some trouble was his "Much Better Than the Official Michelin Guide to Israeli Prisons, Jails, Concentration Camps and Torture Chambers". The self-published pamphlet, which looked like any other Michelin guide, was a successful PR stunt but nearly drove him to bankruptcy. Michelin appealed to the High Court in 2004 and Tzabar had to agree to stop distributing his enlightening study of Israel's prisons.
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