Thursday, March 22, 2007
A Tribute to Shimon Tzabar by Gilad Atzmon
By Gilad Atzmon
Shimon Tzabar, one of the very few Israeli genuine and authentic peace enthusiasts, died three days ago (19 March 2007). He was Eighty-one. Shimon was a friend. Though we hardly ever agreed on anything, though he was sometimes harsh in his criticism, he has always managed to be charming, loveable and a good laugh. Maybe even the best laugh around.
As well as being a fabulous artist, a landscape and portrait painter, Shimon was probably one of the best storytellers one could find. This is hardly surprising, the man obviously had some stories to share. He was born in Tel Aviv in 1926. Already in his teens he had managed to join every Israeli Paramilitary organisation. He knew everyone and it is more than likely that everyone knew him.
Shimon participated in three Israeli wars. However, it was only after 1967 that he fully internalised the scale of the Zionist fallacy. Repulsed by emerging Israeli imperialism, Shimon left Israel and settled in London. I believe that it was then that Shimon started regarding himself as a ‘Hebrew-Speaking Palestinian’. By doing so he detached himself from the classic Zionist collective attribution to world Jewry, he instead identified himself with an esoteric geographical orientation.
Like my peers, I came across his name as a young kid. Every Israeli child knows Tzabar’s ‘Tusberindi the Hero’ (Tusberindi Ha’gibor). We grew up with his special wit and captivating sketches.
Before leaving Israel, Shimon was an established author. He was also a columnist for a number of years for both the daily Haaretz and Uri Avnery’s Ha’olam Haze. In fact, till his last days, Israeli journalists, intellectuals, academic researchers and solidarity campaigners who visited London tried to approach him and to learn his views about things.
Shimon always loved to surround himself with creative people. When we got to know each other he asked me to join the editorial staff of the Israel Imperial News. I was on his editorial board for a while. In 2004, he asked me to join forces with him in the production of the “Better than the Michelin Guide to Israeli Prisons, Jails, Concentration Camps and Torture Chambers". To join forces with Shimon, or to be on his editorial board, meant to come over for a coffee and watch him working. There was never much for me or anyone else to do.
Shimon was a workaholic, he was addicted to hard work. In 1967, in his early forties, after immigrating to London, Shimon became a builder. Not exactly what you would expect from a prominent writer. Evidently, the man was anything but spoiled. However, in London Shimon found the time to write one of the funniest books ever. “The White Flag Principle, How to Lose a War and Why”. It is a profound military doctrine that is there to suggest that losing a war is always the best way to win a future. The white flag principle was there to teach generals and warlords how to get everything wrong, how to train their soldiers to run backwards and to bring their country to their knees. “Being defeated is the way forward,” said Tzabar.
I believe that the necessary key to understanding Shimon’s unique contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian discourse has something to do with the fact that Shimon was primarily an artist. Rather than bouncing between political campaigns and dealing with activists’ will to power, Shimon was always focused on himself, on his own acts, on his art, on his particular creative way of saying things. Shimon always had something in the pipeline: whether a large landscape picture, a print, a portrait, a pamphlet about Israeli occupation, a book about Israeli atrocities, a virtual Israeli roadblock in front of the Parliament. Though I myself hardly agreed with Shimon on many things, I did learn a lot from the man.
Following Shimon, I tend to believe that artists better leave politics to politicians. Artists should work independently. We should never affiliate with anyone but our ethical consciousness and moral awareness. In fact, Shimon has never pointed it out in such a clear manner, but thinking about the man and his role, this is what Shimon was all about, a total commitment. He was always doing his thing, engaging in what he believed should be the right thing to do. Shimon will be missed.