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A Brother's Story
By Maurice Cohen
While Eli was in Syria, I served in the intelligence unit, which was responsible for Eli's activities. I encoded the transmissions sent to him and decoded those I received back.
At first, I did not know who these messages were for, or who they were from. Later on I found out that the destination was Damascus in Syria, and our agent there was none other than Eli Cohen, known by his code name Kamel Amin Tabet, our man in Damascus.
As part of my job, I had all the regular and secret codes that Eli's activators used to communicate with him. Eli and his activators would usually send a personal message at the end of the operative transmissions. One day I received the post script, "Did Nadia get the Singer sewing machine I sent her." Now there were no such words in the code book as 'Nadia', or 'Singer Sewing Machine'. I asked my commanders, "What is the meaning of this?" Their answer was, that it was a top-secret code, for which I did not have security clearance. Out of curiosity, I visited my sister in law Nadia that day, and I found that she in fact had got the sewing machine that Eli had mentioned in his message.
In another message sent to Eli, the end of the telegram had the personal message, "Mlle. Fifi a Commence a Marche," Miss Fifi has begun to walk. Of course, I did not ask my commanders, but I went straight to my sister in law, and I saw that my chubby little niece Sophie, my brother Eli's daughter, had in fact taken her first steps, after taking slightly longer than most babies to begin. This was worrying Eli, and the message was sent to him to calm him down.
At this point, I came to the conclusion that the man behind the lines was none other than my brother Eli.
Eli would get vacations to visit Israel. During these times, false messages would be sent to the same destination in order to fool the enemy.
On one of his visits to Israel, Eli brought a pair of house slippers for his daughter. They were velvet slippers, with golden embroidery, made in Syria. The size was imprinted on the slippers' soles in Arabic numbers. I became very excited, and asked Eli where he bought such nice slippers. Eli answered without hesitation, "From the Lafayette Gallery in Paris." I made it hard for Eli and continued to ask him if shoe sizes are written in Arabic in France. He got a bit uneasy and asked me sarcastically, "What is this, an interrogation? I told you I bought them in France. Maybe they were imported from an Arab country."
Eli felt uncomfortable and tried to change the topic. He asked me if I had gotten a phone line for my new apartment, as I had recently moved and it was hard to get a phone line in those days. "You work for the postal service, so it should be easier for you to get a line," he kidded me. He didn't know that I was working undercover for the Israeli Army Intelligence. I told him that I had gotten a phone, and I'd give him the number. But instead, I gave him the number of his apartment in Damascus, which he had sent a short time before his trip to Israel. Eli started to write the number down, but stopped in the middle. His face turned red, his uneasiness was clear, but he calmed down immediately and told me that he had to run to the supermarket to buy something before it closed.
Eli called his commanders at the main base who activated him, and told them about what had happened with great fear and worry. They told him that there was nothing to worry about, it must have been a coincidence. But before Eli got back home, I was summoned to my base and warned not to discuss the issue with Eli anymore and not to reveal this secret to anyone.
I kept this secret deep in my heart, unable to share it with anyone, especially my family. I knew the top security importance. I realized the brave stance my brother Eli took to defend his country, while placing himself in mortal danger. This knowledge tore at my heart and put me in a terrible dilemma. Should I cause Eli's essential mission to be halted and save his life so he could return to his family, but be considered a traitor by my people and country? Or should I disregard the information I had, and put Eli's safety into God's hands, and let him complete his sacred mission to save our holy land from destruction by a crazed and vicious enemy? I had no choice. After a long deliberation, I knew I had to take the second, painful option.
The outcome of my choice is well known - Eli was ultimately caught and jailed in Damascus and tortured with a barbaric cruelty that is too agonizing to describe. After a long trial, for which Eli did not get an appropriate defense, he received the death sentence and he was hanged publicly in Damascus in 1965. However, the information Eli gathered helped Israel to win the Six Day War, and essentially released Israel from the threat of certain destruction.
Eli went to his death as a proud Jew, the age-old prayer "Shma Yisrael" on his lips. He asked forgiveness from his family, and asked that we come together to say Kaddish for him and his father of blessed memory.