May 2015: Shula Cohen

Shula Cohen

Heroine: a woman having the qualities of a hero; a woman admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities; the central female figure in an event or period.

Shula Cohen became one of Israel’s most famous spies spy in 1948 in Beruit where her wealthy husband and her acceptance in Lebanese-Syrian social circles gave her unprecedented access to secret intelligence information. 

In a story reminiscent of Queen Esther, she risked her comfortable lifestyle to help her people, but unlike Esther, Shula paid a high price for her choice. Imprisoned in 1960, she endured seven years of torture and abuse until a secret prisoner exchange happened after the Six Day War in 1967 and she was freed.

Born in Jerusalem, as a teenager Shula was married off to a wealthy Beirut merchant, with whom she raised seven children. In 1947, on the eve of Israel’s war of Independence, she stumbled on some military intelligence and sent it on to Israel. Immediately, the nascent intelligence services tapped her to smuggle Jewish refugees from Syria across the Lebanese border. In the 1950s, she organized a spy ring based in a Beirut nightclub, and obtained secret Lebanese and Syrian documents for the Mossad. Dubbed “The Mata Hari of the Middle East.”

When Shula Cohen overheard the Arabs in her village talking about plans to attack Israel she knew the information was important, and decided to ask a client of her husband’s business to smuggle a letter to an imaginary aunt in Jerusalem that hid information about the Arab attack. She was able to help thousands of Jews from Syria and Iraq escape torture and death. She found escape routes for them by land, sea and air. She did this for fourteen years before she was caught.

Her Code Name was Pearl.

Shula Cohen was honored by Mrs. Navon at the President’s house for “her services to the Jewish people.”

What kind of message did Shula Cohen hide in the letter to Jerusalem? See if you can guess what she wanted to say…

My dearest Aunt Medina,

I am so happy to hear that you are well after your illness. I am happy you are planning a birthday party for all the family. We will be happy to come to Uncle Israel’s 70th birthday party. Aunt Jordana and uncle Whitey will be arriving by car. They will leave on Tuesday morning and arrive Wednesday night. I do hope you will be able to meet them on the road and show them the way to your house. The family here is sending some large presents with them for the party with some lovely surprise.

All our love, 

Cousin Shula

Related links:

DVD Series Against All Odds

Book – “Lionhearts – Heroes of Israel

Video – Shula Cohen at 85 in Hebrew