Israel Imperial News (1968) and beyond

The revelation of the macabre adventures of Unit 101 and many other such stories fuelled my determination to fight the occupation of the West Bank. I tried to reprint the same advert again, but this time I was refused. When I realised that I could do nothing more in Israel, I decided to go to Europe and try to mobilise world opinion against the occupation. I believed that the Israeli public, or at least the government, was sensitive to international public opinion.

I did not wait for Ha'aretz to sack me. With all the liberal tolerance of Mr Schocken, I do not think that he would have resisted giving me the boot for long. Ha'aretz was the best newspaper in the country and Schocken would not have sacrificed this treasure which he had received as a wedding present from his parents, for my sake. [.........]

When I embarked on this journey 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. I stayed in Paris for a few days, to see Eli Loebel, an old friend of mine and a political ally to discuss with him the idea of a satirical publication. [..........]. Loebel was positive about the idea but was worried about my well being - what could the establishment do to me. 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 streets 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, so it seemed to me, was to go as public 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, as was customary, at the Israeli Embassy, and never looked behind my shoulders. I thought to myself: "If the Mossad wants to get me, they should know where I am." [........]

I left Paris and continued on my way 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 in London University, Dina Hecht who had a part time job as a proof reader of Hebrew publications in the Israeli Embassy and Theodor Shanin, who later became a professor of sociology in Manchester University.

The idea behind the 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 run such a mouthpiece? In the late ‘Sixties, empires were not in vogue. It was an old idea, but it could be revived and even sponsored by other dead and vanished empires like that of Napoleon, and his nephew Napoleon III, the Russian Empire of Tzar Nicolas II, the Austrian Franz Joseph, or that of Alphonso XII of Spain. I found "by appointment" crests of all these ancient regimes and put them on different pages of the magazine to show the reader our noble lineage. 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 show that even the prophet Moses was not impartial to matters of military hardware. [………..]

With the help of a few English friends, among them Liz Nussbaum and Christopher Walker, Israel Imperial News was launched in March 1968. The articles were mainly translations from the Hebrew press in Israel including copies of advertisements supporting the occupation of Arab land and demanding never to return them, and the one and only advertisement against it, the one we had published earlier ourselves. There were also reprints of aggressive and provocative cartoons from the Israeli press. Newly written material consisted of an editorial and a column entitled From our Middle-East Correspondents. This column included two articles written by Arab journalists whom I met in London. One was by Khalid Kishtani 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 received a positive reception in London, because it had a different attitude to the Israeli conquest than that of the British national press which was uncritical of the Israeli military victory. To let the public know about Israel Imperial News, we put a classified ad in The Times.

Our ad hit the target. Every morning the postman brought us orders, and some readers sent small donations. I took 200 copies to Eli Loebel in Paris. All in all Israel Imperial News sold about 3000 copies and I was able to pay the printer in full. In contrast to the favorable reviews in the British press, Israel Imperial News received 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 Ha'olam Hazze. One weekly magazine nicknamed me the Israeli Lord Haw Haw, and from being a simple traitor, I became public enemy number one. When I called, my wife told me that she was getting threatening calls and people were throwing stones at the windows. Confronted with this situation, I told her to take our son and join me in London.

While I was preparing the second issue of the magazine, I came to the printing press one morning and found a note with a telephone number. 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 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 the beginning, so I was told, the Embassy was reluctant. But the pressure grew and a meeting was arranged at the students' club in Beit Hilel, 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 what I did was 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 national Hebrew poet whose poetry was taught to us in school, which he wrote after the pogrom of Jews in Kishinev, in 1905. The line reads (in a free translation): "The revenge for the blood of a young child, the Devil has not envisaged yet". And I added, "what is true about the blood of a Jewish child, ought to be true of the blood of all children. 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 finished, there were questions from the floor.

From the questions that came not only from students but also from correspondents of the Israeli press stationed in London, I gathered that very few understood what I had said or, if they did, chose to ignore it. The questions were of the sort: "Who paid you to do this filthy work", etc. Among the few who did understand the message was a young Israeli graduate from a Swiss university who had just arrived in London, Rami Heilbron. He contacted me after the meeting and helped me from then on with the next issue of the 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, there was more that 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 which contained the following sentence: " I know what the bad German did. What I would like to know is what the good Germans did?" I don't know how many people 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 am often asking myself, that people who have experienced the Holocaust can treat other people, especially their neighbors, like they do. 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 somebody else) likes them or not. {……..]

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 the map, 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, in this map, most of the planned new settlements were dotted along the border with Lebanon. The only border that was peaceful and not involved in the war. This surely hinted at a certain strategy. It was no secret in Israel, even before the Six Days' War, that the Litani River which runs through Lebanon along the Israeli border contained 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 at The Times. They published the map but not my speculation about the new Israel strategy.

A few years 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", and armed and financed the Christian militia to keep an eye on it. Since that time there have been innumerable battles between the Israeli army and its lackeys and the Lebanese Hezzbolla guerrillas. In 1996, Israel bombarded a refugee camp in this region which resulted in nearly 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 Days' 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 letters were acknowledged but not printed.

Now back to the narrative, London, 1968. The second issue of Israel Imperial News was published a few months later. My Israeli friends in London, members of the left wing Maztpen group, suggested that we join forces and publish a 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. I was not surprised, however, that the new publication became something utterly different from what I had in mind and had an appeal to a different public. After a few issues the joint 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 Chamsin.