The Israeli Spy in Lebanon, Ma’ariv, 1978
Translation of First Paragraph
Shula Cohen was one of the legends of Israel and is therefore given the [Israel at] Thirty Award today. Shula Cohen sat in jail for six years due to her actions in the underground and her actions in the service of Israel. Her husband also spent time in jail.
This is an article from Ma’ariv describing the women who received special awards on the 30th anniversary of the State of Israel, one of whom was Shulamit (Shula) Cohen, who had served as an Israeli spy in Lebanon.
Twenty-two women were chosen by the Council of Women’s Organisations to receive the “Thirty Award” for their contribution to State of Israel. This article briefly describes the activities and contribution of each of the women including, for example, Emunah Nasser a-Din, a resident of the village of Daliyat al-Carmel, and Bracha Kapah from Jerusalem.
Shulamit Cohen, whose photograph appears in the article, was born in Argentina and grew up in Israel. When she was sixteen, she married a Lebanese-Jewish business man and moved to the Jewish quarter of Beirut, where she was recruited by the Mossad. In the Mossad she was known as “the Pearl” and was responsible for conveying military information about the Lebanese Army during the War of Independence and helping organise the illegal aliya of Jews from Lebanon and other Arab countries. In 1961 Cohen was caught, tortured, and later sentenced to death; subsequent to an appeal, her sentence was commuted to seven years in prison. At her trial she was called the Lebanese Mata Hari (after the Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was executed in France as a German spy during World War I). After the Six-Day War, Cohen returned to Israel as part of a prisoner exchange.
Cohen’s story was barred from publication until the early 1970s. In an interview on the occasion of receiving the award, Cohen said that she did not want to talk about her activities in Lebanon or remember those times:
I liked doing what I did in Lebanon, and I didn’t do anything in expectation of a reward or prize, but all the same, it is nice that they have remembered me after so many years. I did not seek honour then, and now on receiving the award, it gives me a good feeling and helps me forget a little the agonies of the Lebanese prison and the difficulties on arriving in Israel. I say thank you for the honour that has been given to me; the suffering can never be taken away, but it can be forgotten a little.
Connection to Parashat Shlach Lecha
This parasha tells the story of the spies, one representative from each tribe, who were sent to inspect the Land of Israel and report back on its wonders. The report that they brought back to the Jewish People was, however, very negative, and the Israelites believed it, despite Moses’ promise that God would assist them and provide for them. As a result of this lack of faith, the nation was doomed to stay in the desert for another 39 years. A generation later, when Joshua had assumed the mantle of leadership, spies – this time only two – were once again sent to the Land of Israel on a strictly military mission, this time returning with a positive report.
In Jewish History lessons this article can be used to introduce famous Jewish spies from history. Shulamit Cohen’s story can also be used when teaching about Jewish communities in Arab countries and their life after the establishment of Israel. It can also be used when teaching about the War of Independence in general.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this article and the story of Shulamit Cohen when learning about the 12 spies sent by Moses and the subsequent two spies sent by Joshua.
When was this article written?
In which newspaper was this article printed?
Who is featured in the photograph?
What award did she win?
Where was she living when she worked on behalf of the State of Israel?
Where was she imprisoned for her actions?
Reading Between the Lines
Who was Shulamit Cohen?
What were her actions on behalf of Israel and the Jewish People?
What happened to her in Lebanon?
How was she rewarded for her actions in Israel?
How were the relations between the State of Israel and Lebanon at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, and why was it necessary to employ spies in Lebanon?
Why was there a need to smuggle Jews from Lebanon and other Arab countries to the State of Israel in the early years of the state?
When was Shulamit Cohen released from jail?
Why do you think her story was kept secret by the State of Israel for so long?
What do you think about Shulamit Cohen’s actions?
What leads to a person, event, or historical action being remembered while others are forgotten?
Why do you think the State of Israel chose to present the award for Israel’s 30th anniversary to women?
Create a list of five contemporary women to receive an award for their contribution to society. You can choose women – either famous or not – from your community or from Israel.
Who did you choose and why?