IIN in Shimon Tzabar's own words Shimon Tzabar's Political Legacy
IIN Today Spend the night with a mosquito Israel Imperial News March 68
Israel Imperial News Oct 68 ISRAC May 69 ISRAC March 70

Israel Imperial News and ISRAC
in Shimon Tzabar’s own words

At the beginning of December 1967 I left my wife and my son in Tel Aviv and embarked on a Turkish liner at Haifa and sailed to Marseilles. I had no intention of leaving Israel for good. 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 which I was familiar with. It could match all the weapons that the Israeli army keeps in its arsenal, including their nuclear bombs.

I disembarked in Marseilles and took the train to Paris on my way to London. In Paris with Eli Loebel, an old friend and a political ally, I discussed the idea of a satirical publication. I had decided on the title Israel Imperial News. Loebel was positive about the idea but worried about my well being. To criticise Israeli policy in Israel was acceptable, but to criticise Israeli policy abroad was unheard of at that time. Loebel advised me to take care not to reveal my address, not to walk alone in the street and so on. In short, to publish the magazine but live underground. I did not think it was a good idea. I did not think that I could compete with the Mossad in underground activities. My best defence it seemed to me, was to go public as much as possible. And so I did. When I published the Israel Imperial News, my name and address were printed on it and when I had to change my address, I registered it with the Israeli Embassy.

I left Paris and continued to London. Here I met a few friends who shared my moral and political concern and were willing to help with the publication I had in mind. Among them were Akiva Orr, who studied computer science at London University, Dina Hecht who had a part time job as a proof reader of the Hebrew publications in the Israeli Embassy and Theodor Shanin, who later on became a professor of sociology in Manchester University.

I started to design the magazine. The idea behind Israel Imperial News was simple. If the Israeli government wanted to become an Empire they needed a mouthpiece. Who was more qualified than me to be such a mouthpiece? In the late sixties, Empires were no longer in vogue but they could be revived and even sponsored by other dead and vanished empires such as the French Empire of Napoleon and his nephew Napoleon III, the Russian Empire of Tzar Nicolas II, the Austrian Francis Joseph I, or that of Alphonso the XII of Spain. I found the crests of all these ancient regimes and put them on different pages of Israel Imperial News to show the reader our noble lineages' support. The cover of the first issue was a picture of the sculpture of Moses by Michaelangelo, with a speech bubble that asked - Has the Mirage 51 got vertical take-off?, to emphasize that even the prophet Moses was not impartial to matters of military hardware

As I sat down to write the editorial, Christopher Walker knocked on the door. He came just at the right time because I was looking for a native English speaker to help with my English. Christopher was interested in Middle Eastern politics. As it happened, Christopher had come to visit me with something else in mind. He showed me a letter that was published that morning in The Times by the Rev. W. W. Simpson, in response to a letter Christopher had published a few days earlier. In his letter, Simpson denied that Israeli soldiers had committed atrocities during the war. Christopher came to ask me for details of such atrocities, like the massacre of refugees returning to their villages through the river Jordan. When I read Simpson's letter, I told Christopher that it was not his duty to answer such an accusation, it was mine. I drafted a letter to The Times and sent it off. The letter was published two days later.

With the help of a few English friends, Israel Imperial News was launched in March 1968. The articles were mainly translations from the Hebrew press, including copies of advertisements in favour of the occupation of Arab land and the only advertisement against it - the one that we had published ourselves. There were reprints of aggressive and provocative cartoons from the Israeli press. New material consisted of an editorial and a column, From Our Middle-East Correspondents. This column included two articles written by Arab journalists whom I had met in London. One was by Khalid Kishtaini from Iraq, and the other by Wagui Ghali from Egypt. The reason for me publishing these two articles was to show Israeli readers that it was not difficult to collaborate with Arabs if one had peaceful intentions. The magazine got quite a positive reception in London, because it had a different attitude to the Israeli conquest than the one of the British national press which was an uncritical jubilation of the Israeli military victory. To let the public know about Israel Imperial News we put a classified ad in The Times.

Our advertisment hit the target. Every morning the postman brought us orders. A few readers sent small donations. I took a bundle of 200 copies to Eli Loebel in Paris. As it happened, this was the time of the student rebellion of 1968. Israel Imperial News sold about 3,000 copies and I was able to pay the printer in full. In contrast to the favourable reviews in the British press, Israel Imperial News got a stormy reception in Israel. It was attacked by almost everybody who could hold a pen and had a foothold in the press, including Amos Keinan and Uri Avnery, the editor of Haolam Haze. One weekly magazine even nicknamed me the Israeli Lord Haw Haw. From being just a simple traitor, I became Public Enemy Number One. When I called my family on the phone, my wife told me that she was getting threatening calls and people were throwing stones at the windows. I told her to take our son and come over to join me.

While I was preparing the second issue of the magazine, I came to the printing press one morning and found a note that someone had called. I called back and a woman with an Arabic accent said she would like to meet me. I told her to meet me at the printers. We went to the nearby pub and over a glass of wine she told me that she represented a women's group in Lebanon where my political activities were much appreciated. She asked if I had enough money to carry on. The organization that she represented was willing to finance me. I asked her if she was aware that if it became known that I had received money from an Arab source, this could jeopardize whatever I was trying to achieve.

Oh no, she said. We can do it through a secret account and nobody would ever know.

Why do you have to offer me money? " I answered. I am publishing a magazine, printed next door. You can buy as many copies as you wish.

She thanked me for this good advice and left. I never saw her again, and nobody ordered large quantities of copies of Israeli Imperial News.

The commotion that the publication caused had driven Israeli students in London to demand that the Israeli Embassy call a meeting and invite me to explain my activities. At first I was told that the Embassy was reluctant, but pressure grew and finally the meeting was arranged at the student club in Beit Hilel, in Swiss Cottage. The house was packed. I talked about my motives for launching the Israel Imperial News and also about the letter I sent to The Times. My main argument was that I did exactly what I was urged to do by my Zionist upbringing. I was brought up to fight injustice and that was what I did. I quoted a line from a poem by Bialik, the Hebrew national poet which he wrote after the pogrom of Jews in Kishinev, Russia in 1905. In a free translation the line reads

The revenge for the blood of a young child, the Devil has not envisaged yet.

I added:

What is true about the blood of a young Jewish boy, ought to be true of the blood of all children and not only Jewish. What I was doing ought to be done by everybody. If anyone in this house can convince me that I was wrong and that I should only fight for injustice committed against Jews, I am ready to listen".

After I had finished, there were questions from the floor. From these questions from students and correspondents of the Israeli press stationed in London, I gathered that few people had understood what I said or if they had, they had chosen to block it out. The questions were of the 'who paid you to do this filthy work?' sort. Among the few who did understand the message was a young Israeli graduate from a Swiss university who had recently arrived in London, Rami Heilbronn, who got in touch with me after the meeting and helped me from then on with the next issue of Israel Imperial News and other publications with which I became subsequently involved.

What I said in that meeting was true but there was more to it. Apart from the revulsion I had reading about the murderers of Unit 101 (an Israeli army special operation unit) there was more which fed my campaign against the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinians At the time of the Eichman trial, Dan Ben Amotz wrote an article in which there was the following sentence, I know what the bad Germans did. What I would like to know is what the good Germans did? I don't know how many people, including Dan Ben Amotz himself, paid attention to this sentence, but it had certainly impressed me. There are other, even more important issues associated with this subject. How is it, I often ask myself, that people who have experienced the Holocaust can treat other people, especially their neighbors, like that?

People may think that I do whatever I do because I like Palestinians. I don’t think that I like Palestinians in particular and there are even some Palestinians I cannot stand. I cannot understand why the issue of Human Rights should have anything to do with love or hate. Humans ought to have their rights and their dignity secured, irrespective of whether I or anybody else) like them or not. However, this issue is a moral minefield. One wrong step and I'll find myself buried next to Mother Teresa.

At roughly the same time, there was a world Zionist congress in Israel. My friend Dan Omer sent me a map from Jerusalem that was handed out to the delegates of this congress. This was a map of the planned future settlements in Israel. Leaning over it I noticed something peculiar. After being at war with Syria, Jordan and Egypt, it would seem sensible, in order to enhance security, to build new Jewish settlements along the border with these countries. However, most of the planned new settlements on this map were dotted along the border with Lebanon - the only peaceful border. This surely hinted at a certain strategy. It was no secret in Israel, even before the Six Day War, that the Litani River that runs through Lebanon along the Israeli border, contains a lot of water. Water is the most important commodity in that part of the world. Ownership of the Litani River would boost agricultural production in Israel. I wondered if this was not the direction of the next war. I handed over the map to a contact I had in The Times. They published the map but not my speculation about the new Israel strategy.

A few years have passed. In 1982 the Israeli army invaded Lebanon. When they eventually withdrew from Lebanon, they continued to occupy the strip of land that contained the Litani River and renamed it the Security Zone. They recruited, armed and financed a Christian militia to keep an eye on that Security Zone. Since then there have been innumerable battles between the Israeli army and its lackeys and the Lebanese Hezbolla guerrillas. In 1996, Israel bombarded a refugee camp in this region which resulted in nearly one hundred Lebanese casualties. I sent a letter to the editors of The Guardian and The Times in which I mentioned the map of the Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1968 and added that in my view the reason for this bombardment and the others before has nothing to do with security or even with retaliation for the katusha mortar attacks on Israeli border towns. From the occupation of the West Bank in the Six Day's War, the Israeli government had learned that it is not a good policy to occupy land with their inhabitants. It is much safer to occupy land without people. The constant sporadic bombardments of the villages in, and close to the Security Zone have a purpose. The purpose is to get rid of the people living on this land. Each time Israel bombards a village, a hundred people flee. When the bombardment stops, only eighty return. If this were to continue, very few people would be left and then it would be safe for the annexation of the security zone to Israel. The letter was acknowledged but not printed.

The second issue of Israel Imperial News was published a few months later. The success of its publication suggested to my Israeli friends in London, who were members of the left wing Matzpen group, that it would be better to join forces and publish a joint magazine which they named Israca (Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee Abroad). I agreed, although I did not like the adjective Revolutionary. In my view, people ought to be judged by what they do and not by what they call themselves, but I had to bow to my friends’ wishes. I was not surprised, however, that the new publication became something utterly different. It was doctrinal and appealed to a different public. After a few issues the project collapsed. It only collapsed in the sense that it did not continue the line of the Imperial News. It went on to produce some interesting analyses of Zionism and became the foundation of another journal called Khamsin