Monday, April 02, 2007

remembering Shimon Tzabar

Today's Guardian has an obituary of the much-missed Shimon Tzabar - artist, mycologist, humourist, publisher, author and long-time critic of Zionism - by two of those who knew him best, Moshe Machover and Liz Nussbaum. Tzabar was 81 when he died, but was an eternally youthful and creative spirit. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Shimon and his partner, the neuropsychologist Judit Druks, a few years ago by our mutual friend the Iraqi satirist and journalist Khalid Kishtainy. In their hospitable and warm flat, whose walls and shelves were crammed with Tzabar's accomplished works of art (his obituary is illustrated by a self-portrait rather than a photograph), we feasted on hand-picked mushrooms; one of Shimon's passions was mushroom hunting and his fungal forays took him to Siberia and other exotic locations. When I left he presented me with a copy of his guide to mushrooms on CD.

Shimon was founder of the Israel Imperial News satirical magazine. His wise and entertaining book “The White Flag Principle: How to Lose a War and Why” was published by Penguin in 1974 and was republished in an updated edition in 2003 by New York publisher Four Walls Eight Windows.

Three years ago Shimon, with the help of a group of fellow anti-Zionist Israeli exiles in London, produced a guidebook to Israeli “prisons, jails, concentration camps and torture chambers” in the guise of a green (Much Better Than the Official) Michelin Guide. Michelin started legal proceedings aginst him in the High Court in London for using their distinctive format but they eventually dropped the charges and let him off paying any of their legal costs. In a letter to the High Court Tzabar wrote: "Being a French company, I was sure that they would know what satire is and would have enough sense of humour to tolerate a spoof based on one of their products, especially for such an humanitarian cause."

The Israelis who produced the book are described as “a small group of native Israelis who left the country of their birth after the war of 1967. When that war, in which some of them served as soldiers, ended, they discovered that it had not been a defensive war against invading armies as they were told at the time, but a war provoked by Israel itself, in order to conquer the West Bank and annex it while driving out its native inhabitants.”

The members of the group have long called for a democratic secular binational state to be set up in all of historic Palestine. The guidebook declares on its first page: “The Grand Tour of the Palestinian Holocaust. The Israeli efforts to get rid of the Palestinians and settle Jews in their place in the whole of the Holy Land. And the world looks on and does nothing just as it did during the Jewish Holocaust.”

In their introduction the editors of the guidebook write “Some might object to our calling the policy of eliminating the Palestinians, which is what the Zionist Israeli government is doing, a Holocaust. The fact that the Jews were the victims of a Holocaust does not give them the copyright on the name or on the concept. Holocausts are not a Nazi invention. There were a lot of Holocausts in human history from very early times. Many communities have been wiped out by other communities and the Jewish Holocaust was only one of many.”

The first half of the book provides details of the system of prisons in which Palestinians may be held. Road maps in Hebrew and English give the locations of prisons and interrogation centres, complete with telephone and fax numbers.

The guidebook suggests that visitors can experience the system from the inside by getting themselves arrested, and advises: “The safest way of being arrested, although this also carries a risk with it, is to look like a Palestinian Arab. This can easily be achieved by putting on some Arab garb, such as, for example, an Arab head dress or a kefiyah as it is commonly known.”

The second half of the book consists of a translation from Hebrew of “Checkpoint Syndrome”. This book, written by former soldier Liran Ron Furer, which caused an uproar in Israel when it was published in 2003. Furer describes how he and other members of his unit behaved at checkpoints and on patrol in Gaza from 1997 to 1999. “Checkpoint Syndrome” is written in a crude and brutal Hebrew slang, the flavour of which is kept in the English translation. As well as describing how soldiers at checkpoints arrested, killed and robbed Palestinians, Furer described soldiers' sexual fantasies, some of them focussed on Palestinian women, and viewing of pornographic movies.

Among Tzabar's other written works is an enthralling and bitingly funny unpublished autobiography, complete with his own illustrations. It tells the story of a truly remarkable life.


IAblogger said...

Thanks for posting this. After the loss of Tanya Reinhardt the other day (, it is a shame that another person of conscience has passed on.

John S.
Jewish Friends of Palestine

starbush said...

It would be good if Shimon's autobigraphy, or extracts, could be published in some form, even though it was written primarily for private circulation.