A correspondent sent me a link to a fascinating story (at Ioram’s blog A pair of eyes in the Middle East, which seems to have gone silent since May). It starts:

It’s no big secret that nobody likes the newcomer. In this land one can say it has been a long-standing tradition, perfected with each turn of History. A famous sketch known to practically any Hebrew-speaking Israeli, done by the now-defunct comedy group “Lool” (“Coop”) shows how each wave of immigrants arriving since the beginning of Zionism is received with contempt by the previous immigrants, who now regard themselves as “locals”. The first Zionist pioneers, singing folk-songs in the Russian style are looked down at by the local Palestinian Arabs who express their anger and scorn by spitting the insult “Il’an babour illi jabak”, which means, literally “Curse the ship that brought you”.
The classic sketch then shows how the first Jewish settlers show their contempt at the next wave of Jewish immigrants, coming from Poland, how the Polish Jews are then quick to curse the German Jews coming in the 1930s. The German Jews (nicknamed “Yekes”, maybe for their propensity to cling to their jackets, stiff and stifling in the local heat) then curse the Yemenites who are quick to learn the drill and curse the Moroccans who then curse the Jews from the Georgia and so on. Each group curses the previous one, and the sketch is funny not only in painting the characters, accents, quirks and stereotypes, but in that they all use the same curse in Palestinian Arabic: “Curse the ship that brought you.”

It goes on to discuss the history of the Arabic word babur (from French vapeur), of steamships, and of inter-ethnic resentment, and concludes with a moving tribute to “one of the best Arab restaurants in the country,” called Al Babour, “The Steamer.” Well worth the read.


  1. Siganus Sutor says:

    Wasn’t Babur* the first Great Mogul, i.e. the Muslim conqueror of India who made himself a feared newcomer ?
    * meaning “beaver” or “tiger” ?

  2. Babur is Turkish for tiger. Curiously, he has lent his name to the cartoon elephant, Babar.

  3. “Babur” is derived for an old Indo-European word, meaning “beaver”. However, it is still common belief that his name is derived from the Persian word “Babr”, which means “tiger”.
    In any case, it’s not a Turkish word. The Turkish word for lion is “arslan”.

  4. Siganus Sutor says:

    Arslan, almost like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? C. S. Lewis and Jean de Brunhoff seem to have gone a long way abroad to get the name of their characters. And it looks as if the name Babar could have been given to the Narnian Mr Beaver…
    In any case, it’s not a Turkish word. The Turkish word for lion is “arslan”.
    I think we were talking of a tiger rather than a lion. (BTW, what is the English name for the cub born of a female tiger and a male lion — or the opposite?)

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