Total Pageviews

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Aleppo, Syria's Most Dashing Israeli Spy, Eli Cohen

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                          

Eli Cohen was a Mizrachi Jew.  That means he is a Jew from the Middle East.  Mizrah means East, and that's the name of Egypt, Mitzrayim. Often they are classed together with Sephardi Jews of Spain and Portugal.   He was born in Alexandria, Egypt  December 16,  1924 to an orthodox as well as Zionistic family.  His father sought refuge there from Aleppo in 1914 when Jews were being treated so terribly in Syria.  Aleppo had been the largest city and province where Jews lived.  Damascus also had a large population of Jews as well.  The original people had been there from the time of King David.  Later they were joined by Spanish Jews who needed refuge from the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 when Jews had to either leave the country or convert to Christianity.

He tried to enlist  in the Egyptian Army in January 1947.  Otherwise, being Jews, they  were treated as dhimmis all over the Middle East, meaning that they were penalized for being Jewish and were 2nd class citizens, and  would have had to pay a high poll tax.  They turned him down because they questioned his loyalty.  He had been studying at the university, so later that year he left and had to study  at home after facing harassment by the Muslim Brotherhood for being Jewish.

Israel was created on May 14, 1948.  After that, many Jewish families left Egypt to live there as the Muslim countries reacted to this by throwing out their Jewish populations.  His parents emigrated with his  brothers, Abraham and Maurice in 1949, but he remained in Egypt to finish a degree in electronics and to work on activities that would aid Israel.

By 1951, Egypt had a military coup and they were against any Jews in the country involved in any activity that was Zionistic.  He was arrested and questioned by the police.  In Syria the methods of interrogation are brutal, and they are known to have used electric shock treatments.  Egypt was probably practicing similar brutal methods which even Brooklyn police used in early days, such as the rubber hose  treatment in the 20's and 30's.  Luckily, the Egyptians could find no proof of his actions in Operation Goshen when Israel smuggled out Egyptian Jews and resettled them in Israel because of Egypt's hostility towards Jews then..  There have been several follow up rescues taking out Jews in groups that had been virtually imprisoned in their own neighborhoods with no freedoms at all.

I taught with a young  Egyptian Jewish lady in 1981in Safed at the junior high  and she told me she was one of the last to leave Egypt.  Only a few older ladies remained.

Eli emigrated to Israel, arriving in Haifa in a ship from Naples Italy in December 1956 after the Suez Crisis which had caused more persecution of Jews.  Many were expelled from Egypt then.  In 1957 he was recruited by the Israel Defense forces and placed in military intelligence where he became a counterintelligence analyst.  This was boring for him so he tried to join the Mossad who rejected him.  He left in a huff and worked as a filing clerk in an insurance office in Tel Aviv, quite a humble position for this talented young man.

There he met and married Nadia Majald, an Iraqi-Jewish immigrant in 1959.  They had 3 children, Sophie, Irit and Shai and settled in Bat Yam.  Now he was recruited by Mossad after someone re-visited lists of rejected candidates.  They watched him for 2 weeks and it was decided he was perfect for the job.  This was followed up with a 6 month course in their training school.  He was then a field agent and was given a false identity.

Finally Eli Cohen was caught as a spy and hung  in Al-Marjeh Square, Damascus on May 18, 1965 at the age of 40 years.   With him was 80 year old Chief Rabbi of Syria, Nissim Andabo.  Nadia sent a letter to President Hafez al-Assad and asked his forgiveness for Eli's actions in November.  She hoped to receive his remains but the Syrians refused.  Syria buried him 3  times so no one could find him.

A film about him is "The Impossible Spy" a story about his life.
The Jews of Aleppo 

No comments: