The White Flag Principle: Writing the book (1968)

[..........] While worrying about how to make a living in London, I was commissioned by the Daily Telegraph to write an article on the first anniversary of the Six Days' War. A similar commission was made to Yael Dayan, the daughter of Moshe Dayan, who masterminded that war. Both articles appeared side by side and, I must admit, it was handsomely paid. This kept me cheerful for a while, but still, I kept on worrying about the future. Then, one morning, I got a letter by the post:

Dear Mr. Tzabar,

I thought of writing to you when a paragraph appeared about your magazine in the Times not long ago and my interest was quickened by reading that admirable article in last week's Weekend Telegraph.

The purpose of this letter is really to enquire whether you might be interested in writing a book advocating Arab Israeli reconciliation. I am certain that a book of this kind, coming from you, would be enormously valuable at the present time, and if I could help in any way in my capacity as a literary agent, I should be very happy to.
I enclose a brochure about A.P. Watt & Son. If you felt a talk might be useful, would you care to give me a ring?

Yours sincerely,

Hillary Rubinstein

I gave him a ring and he invited me to his office. After he put before me all the arguments for the book he had in mind, I told him that the idea was very good, but I had an even better idea and told him about my defeat theory. He immediately agreed and asked me to put it down on paper. I presented it to him a few days later and within a week he brought me a contract with Alan Lane the Penguin Press, which is the hardcover edition of Penguin. Within two or three weeks he managed to arrange a similar contract with Simon and Schuster, in New York.

Now, it seemed that I had got what I wanted and immediately started to work. My workshop during the first year was the British Library. Anything that I read that had a relation to my idea went onto a card. I ended the year with a few thousand cards. Now came the time to write it all down. The trouble was that I did not know English. Not enough to write a book. One of the people to come to my help was Christopher Walker. Who was Christopher Walker?

The publication of the Israel Imperial News, hit a few waves. The Daily Telegraph published something about it and we also put a small ad in The Times. A few days later, my door bell rung and a young guy who introduced himself as Christopher Walker, walked in. He was an Oxford graduate who worked in the manuscript department of the Sotheby's auction house. Christopher Walker showed me a letter to the Editor of The Times, in which the Reverend W. W. Simpson, the chairman of the Christian and Jewish friendship association denied my allegation that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes like torturing and killing civilians or demolishing their houses. He came to ask me for more information, so that he could refute the denials of the Reverend Simpson. “Look Christopher" I said to him, “it's not you who have to reply, it is my duty!"

Christopher offered to help me write the book about defeat being the best outcome of war, which was later titled The White Flag Principle by Penguin. The way we worked together was this: I wrote the first chapter. We met in a cafe and I handed him the manuscript. He read it and (usually) said: “Well, I think that I understand what you wanted to say, but it is not English. Would you mind if I rewrite it? Of course I did not mind. He took the manuscript home. A week later we met in the same café. He handed me the manuscript. I read it and (usually) said: “Well it is in good English but it is not what I wanted to say". So I took the manuscript back home and tried, in better English now, to say what I wanted it to mean. We met again in the café. Christopher again found that it was not English and took it home to make it English. So it went from me to him and from him to me a few times until it was good English and it meant exactly what I wanted to say. It took us almost a whole year to edit the book so that we could submit it to the publishers.

But, before I go on, I must say something important to me. The contribution of Christopher Walker to the book, made him, if not a second author, a translator. I should have made this clear on the first page of the first edition. But I did not do it. The reason was, so I assume, that I, being an Israeli, at least in my habits, was so rude and so full of myself as all Israelis are, that I completely ignored his contribution and have never mentioned it until this very moment. The first edition of the book came out in 1972, and it took me quite a time to realise how selfish I had been. However, I have had no opportunity to confess my rude behaviour until now.

In the UK the book didn't do well and a second issue, a Penguin paperback, was not published. Meanwhile, in France the French translation was published by Donoel, and the book became, immediately, a best seller. These ups and downs of the commercial success of the book had nothing to do with what I had written. The reason for the success of the book is really remarkable. While the book was still at the printing press, the publishers sent me a form to fill in with personal information, for publicity purposes. For reasons that I don't remember now, I did not return the form with the information about myself. I simply threw the form into the dustbin. This seemed very strange to the eyes of the editors. An unknown author from a different country must be not only eager to provide information about himself but usually comes to Paris with his extended family and demands to be introduced to the President. And in this case, nothing of the sort happened. Shimon Tzabar cannot be a real name. It must be a pseudonym of a famous English writer. How do I know this? This is what they said themselves.

When the book was launched, the deputy editor of the French daily, Le Mond, Mr.Pierre Viansson-Ponte, in his weekly column, The important events of the week (Au fil de la semaine), wrote: “[ …] The paradoxical and unexpected thesis as it is presented in the famous English sense of humour, which brought fame to Jerome K. Jerome, G. K. Chestertone, Bernard Shaw and others, this one is signed by the pseudonym Shimon Tzabar…"

A few months later an Italian translation of the book appeared. This time I wasn't so lucky as to make the book a best seller, because this time I was not asked personal question for publicity purposes. In any case, my real ambition was not to be a success in France or in Italy, but in Israel. But this had to wait.