June 17, 2010
Eight days ago, Jonathan Magas and I stood on the Israeli side of the Lebanon Border and looked out over Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, the place where Nasrallah delivered his "spider web" speech following the IDF pullout in May 2000.
If you have not read the book “Shula: Code Name The Pearl,” by Aviezer Golan and Danny Pinkas, it is my recommendation that you do so. Shula was born in 1920 and while sixteen, Mademoiselle Marie Kishak and Monsieur Joseph Kishak came to visit during her last Passover at home. Joseph would sit in the large armchair in the corner of her parents' living room there on Alfandari street, where Naomi and Shula had grown up, not asking any questions, not saying a word, not moving, his head hunched between his shoulders, following every move of the beautiful lass about to become his wife. This is the remarkable true story of the amazing woman who became the Mata Hari of the Middle East, a woman whom this ole preacher greatly respects. Shula was born and raised in Israel, but, her father needed to make that "arranged marriage" of her to wealthy Jewish businessman, Joseph Kishak-Cohen, and then at age sixteen, she went off to live in Beirut where Joseph had his business.
The Kishak-Cohens were one of the community’s most prominent families. Mrs. Kishak-Cohen was the scion of a long line of learned and renowned rabbis who had served in the rabbinates of Aleppo, Qamishli, and other Syrian cities. The Kishaks had been successful textile merchants for generations. Joseph and his older brother Chaim, had inherited a large shop in the Suk Sursuk, the Sursuk market, behind the Place de la Bourge, and had enlarged and expanded their trade.
Their word was "as good as money" among the various merchants in the marketplace as well as in the great banks on Hamra Street. They also contributed generously to the synagogue and charitable institutions.
Although they had done well in business, their only faults were they hadn’t done well in arranging marriages for their children. Marie, the eldest daughter, was a bitter old maid; and Joseph, til the age of thirty-six, when marriage with Shula was arranged, hadn’t fared too well.
The repugnance she initially felt for Joseph, who then became her mature, balding Jewish husband, with darting, inquisitive eyes, who was neither young nor handsome, but was rich and apparently kindhearted, was the least of the problems she overcame.
She rode in a Taxi from Haifa to Wadi Abu-Mail, and when it stopped in front of the Kishak-Cohen family apartment building, all the crowd agreed: "She was definitely worth waiting for!"
The Kishak-Cohen establishment dealt primarily in wholesale trade, although the brothers were never known to turn down a retail sale. Most of their sales were to peddlers who traveled from village to village. These men carried their goods on their backs, together with a yard-long iron rod, which was their trademark.
They conducted their business on credit and mutual trust—between peddler and client on one hand, and between wholesaler and peddler on the other.
She had born Joseph five children and was expecting the sixth in the eleventh year of their marriage. In the time frame of the Independence War of the baby nation of Israel, one day while standing in her husband’s shop, in the Wadi Abou-Jamil of Beirut, she overheard the peddlers chatting. One of them told of his good fortune at having stumbled upon a "big wedding" in Kafr Hadsa. A big wedding was the dream of all peddlers. It meant a dowry of dresses, linens, table clothes, napkins, and sometimes even curtains.
But, while listening, she heard the peddlers begin to speak of the war then going on with Israel. One told that there were ten volunteers from his village who were currently training and would soon join the fighting across the border in Israel. Another bragged that he had seen with his own eyes the commander of the Arab Liberation Army, Fawzi Kaukji, recruiting new volunteers in the village of Tibnin.
The third, not to be outdone, boasted that he had also seen the commander, in the village of Bint Jbeil.
Bint Jbeil, back then, just after Israel was declared to be a Nation, this peddler continued, was soon to become an important military base of operations. He said that arms from Iraq had been delivered there in great numbers the week before and that Syrian officers were offering large sums of money to people who would smuggle the weapons across the border. They were saying that Bint Jbeil would soon become a permanent base...
As Jonathan and I stood with those IDF officers a few days ago, my mind went back to the Battles fought there in Israel’s Second Lebanon War, for which I was privileged to make acquaintances with IDF officers and troops.
Late in the night of July 24th, 2006, one IDF soldier was killed when his Merkava tank flipped over after driving over a powerful landmine. Another IDF soldier was killed when an anti-tank missile hit his Merkava.
On July 25, the battle began at approximately 5 A.M. when two Israeli companies from Golani Brigade's 51st Battalion, "A" and "C", began advancing down one of Bint Jbeil's streets on parallel routes. Contrary to previous reports, the Hezbollah fighters were not lying in ambush. "Both sides were unaware of each other and it was actually one of our (IDF) soldiers who saw them first and opened fire."
However, the Hezbollah fighters were in upper stories of buildings, and had a commanding view of the IDF troops, who were in the streets and narrow alleyways. Hezbollah fighters opened fire with small arms and antitank rockets, while other Hezbollah units flanked the IDF troops and fired on them, as well as on other IDF positions in the town. The IDF troops returned fire and fought to regain control of the situation. The fighting lasted for several hours. Some of the gun battles took place in close quarters at point-blank range. In the initial firefight, 30 members of "C" company, comprising one third of its total strength, were hit, and eight of them were killed.
The battalion's deputy commander, Major Roi Klein was among the dead, having been killed when he covered a grenade with his body to save his troops. Forty Hezbollah fighters were also killed.
"A" company began supportive fire to enable the remaining soldiers of "C" Company to evacuate their wounded while continuing to shoot at the enemy. Two additional Golani companies were rushed in to help with the evacuation, which proceeded under a screen of smoke grenades and heavy artillery fire.
Hours later, Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopters managed to land under heavy fire and fly the wounded to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The commanders decided not to risk pilots to evacuate the dead; they were carried out under cover of darkness by a company from the Golani Brigade's 12th Battalion.
"The battle began to their advantage. They were in a much better position, but we won and killed at least 20 Hezbollah fighters. None of the soldiers panicked, they were professional throughout, and that's our advantage over Hezbollah," commander of "A" Company said.
Most of the fighting took place at extremely short-range, sometimes only a few meters, also using hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades. The IDF said its military operations have hit dozens of militants during ongoing fighting in Bint Jbeil, a town it dubbed Hezbollah's "terror capital."
[Today, in 2010, ole JAV still calls it "Hizballah’s terror capital."]
The following day, the IDF reported that it had secured the town. Hezbollah officials confirmed that IDF troops had indeed captured several positions in Bint Jbeil, but had not yet reached the city centre.
Outside the town, a force of the Israeli Paratroopers Brigade was hit by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile, resulting in a gunbattle. One IDF officer was killed, and three soldiers were wounded.
On July 28, troops from the Paratroopers Brigade's 101st and 890th Battalion exchanged fire with Hezbollah and killed at least 20 Hezbollah fighters, according to Israeli sources. The fighters were of Hezbollah's elite forces, which were involved in the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers.
On July 29, the battle ended as IDF troops pulled out of Bint Jbeil, after clashes with Hezbollah left 6 Israeli soldiers wounded and some 26 Hezbollah fighters dead, according to the IDF. Armored forces continued to operate in the area, however.
Since Israel left Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah has built up the area around Bint Jbeil, according to Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin. "Not only [do they have] a terrorist army, but they are sort of waiting for us to come in," she said. "They have booby-trapped the entire area. They want us to walk into those booby traps."
According to Human Rights Watch, despite efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Lebanese civilians were also killed during this battle including a Lebanese citizen who also had US citizenship.
As of July 30, Israel confirmed 10 of its soldiers died in the battle, although several international media organizations had initially reported 18 Israeli casualties. Dozens of Golani Brigade soldiers were evacuated into Israel. Israel claims to have killed over 80 Hezbollah millitants, although Hezbollah claims to have lost 32 in the entire conflict as of July 28 and only 12 in Bint Jbeil.
Hezbollah secretary Hassan Nasrallah said that Israel suffered a "serious defeat" in ground fighting around Bint Jbeil. And on July 30, it was reported that the IDF forces withdrew from Bint Jbeil and that Hezbollah still held the area. Teams from the Red Cross and United Nations arrived in the southern Lebanese town to survey the damage and evacuate residents, a day after heavy fighting reduced much of the area to rubble.
On the evening of August 6th, [when ole JAV was feeding 385 IDF soldiers barbecue] the battle began again.
As of August 7th, Hezbollah claimed to have killed three Israeli soldiers in the town.
At first, the Israeli Defense Forces confirmed only one death, a soldier from the Paratroopers Brigade. However, the Israeli Defense Forces later confirmed that two other soldiers had indeed been killed when their tank was hit by anti-tank rockets and missiles.
The Israeli Defense forces claimed that they killed five Hezbollah fighters in the same round of fighting.
The fighting continued as the Israeli Defense forces claimed to have killed three more Hezbollah fighters in Bint Jbeil and the nearby village of Ramiya. In addition, the Israeli military claimed to have captured five Hezbollah guerrillas in Bint Jbeil and a nearby village, Shihin.
However, two Israeli soldiers, also from the Paratroopers Brigade, were killed in combat that day.
Fighting continued on August 9th, as two more Israeli soldiers were killed during a night offensive.
As of August 9th, the Israeli Defense Forces report that dozens of Israeli soldiers have been injured in fighting in around Bint Jbeil and the surrounding panhandle of Galilee.
By August 12th, Bint Jbeil had become part of the greater Litani offensive. As a tentative ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon began, Journalists who visited the town reported that while "Hizbullah's fighters were as elusive last week as they were deadly", on the 14th "There was no sign of Hizbullah fighters".
As of September 3rd, the town was reported to be in the control of United Nations peacekeeping forces, and Israeli forces had withdrawn from the area.
Some have commented that this battle had a psychological component outweighing its military significance.
Uri Bar-Joseph wrote about
Dan Halutz in Haaretz "He pushed for ineffectual military initiatives with a high casualty toll, like the conquest of Bint Jbeil, which was meant to create a spectacle of victory in the place where Nasrallah delivered his "spider web" speech following the IDF pullout in May 2000."
[end of article]
Now, going all the way back to that eleventh year of Shula’s marriage to Joseph Kishak-Cohen, what she’d overheard, she said to Joseph must be passed on to Israel.
At first Joseph argued, but finally, he yielded because she was a woman, and he remembered a proverb he had once heard: "When a woman is stubborn about little things, it is best to give in before she gets involved in bigger things." "Especially," he added to himself, "when the woman in question is pregnant!"
Even though they’d been married for eleven years, Joseph was still amazed that a shortsighted, slight, and balding man such as he had sound such a beautiful young woman who made him feel young again and elevated him in the eyes of his friends and acquaintances.
Therefore, Joseph called one of the peddlers to him. "This is Abdul Salam Hanoon from Adeisa village," he said, introducing the man to his wife. "His village is right on the border...."
He then turned to Hanoon, addressing him by his more familiar name: "Abu-Yihyeh, my wife has family in Jerusalem. I would like for you to help her..." The Arab immediately agreed, for if he helped hawaja Kishak, hawaja Kishak might see fit to raise his cred....
"Tahat omrak, at your command," he replied. "....by passing a letter across the border for her so that it will reach Jerusalem quickly."
And, with that letter passed on from Arab to Arab, and then finally to the Jews in Misgav ‘Am, who sent the letter on to the appropriate people, "Shula" became recruited as an Agent of the Mossad.
Until February 22, 1961, Shula operated as a Mossad agent in Lebanon, and when one studies her career in detail, one has to say that she truly did very well as a spy, even though she a mother and a wife. As a matter of fact, she carried on “excellently” in all three categories.
Coming back to Beirut in February 1961 from Rome, Shula was arrested, tried, convicted, and served, first, thinking she was to be executed, but then the "death sentence" was renamed to life in prison.
Moving ahead to the time when Israel took Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the Six Day War of 1967, in the Old City of Jerusalem there were many Lebanese citizens, including the Lebanese consul and the entire staff. A few days later, on the Golan, they captured a great deal of heavy equipment the Syrians had planned to use to construct a channel to divert the Jordan River. That equipment, which was worth millions, belonged to a very rich Lebanese contractor.
Israel placed the Lebanese citizens on the bargaining table, along with the costly equipment. In exchange the Israelis demanded the return of an Israeli pilot who had parachuted into Lebanon after his plane was hit in battle above Syria, and another soldier who had crossed the Lebanese border by mistake prior to the war. At the last moment, they added imprisoned Mossad Female Agent "Shula" [Shulamit Kishak-Cohen] to their list of demands.
And that is how Shula was freed from prison in Lebanon.
And, all that started at Bint Jbeil, where Jonathan Magas and I were last week.
YEDIDIM OF ISRAEL