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Falling out with Shalom Cohen


How I met Shalom Cohen
Uri Avnery Social activist
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The rotation should have taken place in November 1971. Before then, there were signs that things were not good between me and Shalom. Now, to understand this whole affair with Shalom Cohen and I, I have to recount where I knew him from in the first place. We were in Samson's Foxes, the jeep company from the 1948 war. He was taken into that battalion as well, and we found ourselves in the same company, the same platoon; I think that we were even in the same squad. After all, in the army two people always connect. This is a comfortable connection because two people together can do a lot of things that one person cannot do: share shifts, swap all sorts of things that are important in the military. And during the war I had become very friendly with Shalom Cohen, because I was a big fan of the Arab lifestyle even then. So the fact that Shalom Cohen had been born in Iraq and educated in Egypt and knew Arabic very fluently attracted me, and we became inseparable just as the regular army: we were in the same Jeep and we were really well known as friends.

In the middle of the war, with the establishment of the State, they transferred us to Tel Nof. All of my company was stationed at Tel Nof. I think that my entire battalion was station at Tel Nof before it became an air base. There was a large room where the entire platoon slept and I discovered, or Shalom discovered, or we both discovered, a small side room, and we took it. Both of us lived in this room. I slowly brought all kinds of books from home about military theory and stuff like that. I remember that one time a battalion commander toured our squad and saw this room and my library, and he said: 'Oh, is this the room of the company commander?' I said: 'No, that is Uri Avnery and Shalom Cohen'. So really we connected very strongly. He was a member of Kibbutz Hashomer Hatzair and, as mentioned, he knew Egyptian Arabic fluently. He received a good education at a school in Alexandria, although not at the school which he claimed to have attended. Shalom was an indefatigable bluffer. There is in Alexandria a world-famous school called Victoria College, where English people from the entire Middle East as well as the Arabic aristocracy send their children. So Shalom claimed that he had been there, although eventually we discovered that this was not true and he had been to a different college, but still an English one. The language of instruction was both English and Arabic, two languages that he knew fluently.

בנובמבר 71' צריכה הייתה להתבצע הרוטציה. לפני זה התחילו להיות סימנים לא טובים ביני ובין שלום. עכשיו, בשביל להבין את כל הפרשה הזאת של שלום כהן ואני, צריכים לזכור מאיפה אני מכיר אותו בכלל. אנחנו היינו בפלוגת "שועלי שמשון", פלוגת הג'יפים במלחמת 48’. לקחו אותו לפלוגה הזאתי גם ומצאנו את עצמנו באותה פלוגה, באותה מחלקה, נדמה לי שאפילו אותה כיתה. בצבא הרי מתחברים שני אנשים תמיד. זו התחברות נוחה מפני ששני אנשים יחד יכולים לעשות הרבה דברים שאדם אחד לא יכול: להתחלק בתורנויות, להתחלף, כל מיני דברים שחשובים בצבא. ואני באמצע המלחמה ככה התיידדתי מאוד עם שלום כהן, מכיוון שהייתי חובב גדול של ההווי הערבי גם אז. אז זה ששלום כהן נולד בעירק והתחנך במצרים וידע ערבית על בוריה מאוד משך אותי ואנחנו הפכנו למין זוג כזה כמו שבצבא רגילים: היינו על אותו ג'יפ והיינו ממש ידועים כחברים. באמצע המלחמה, עם קום המדינה, העבירו אותנו לתל נוף. כל הפלוגה שלי ישבה בתל נוף, אני חושב שכל הגדוד שלי ישב בתל נוף עוד לפני שהוא הפך לבסיס האווירי. והיה חדר גדול ששמה כל המחלקה ישנה ואני גיליתי, או שלום גילה, או ששנינו גילינו את זה, איזה חדר קטן צדדי, ותפסנו אותו. גרנו שנינו בחדר הזה. אני הבאתי לאט-לאט מהבית כל מיני ספרים על תורת המלחמה ודברים כאלה. אני זוכר שפעם אחת מפקד הגדוד סייר בפלוגה שלנו, הוא רואה את החדר הזה והספרייה שלי והכל, אומר: "אה, זה החדר של מפקד הפלוגה?" אמרתי: "לא, זה אורי אבנרי ושלום כהן". אז ממש התחברנו חזק מאוד. הוא היה בקיבוץ, חבר קיבוץ השומר הצעיר, כאמור, ידע ערבית מצרית על בוריה. קיבל חינוך טוב באלכסנדריה בבית ספר, לא בית ספר שהוא טען. שלום היה בלופר בלתי-נלאה. יש באלכסנדריה בי"ס בעל שם עולמי: "ויקטוריה קולג'", ששמה האנגלים מכל המזרח התיכון שלחו את הילדים שלהם, והאריסטוקרטיה הערבית. אז שלום טען שהוא, בסוף גילינו שזה לא נכון כי אם בקולג' אחר, אבל עדיין קולג' אנגלי. שפת הלימוד הייתה אנגלית וערבית, שתי השפות שהוא ידע ממש על בוריין.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Tel Nof, Victoria College, Alexandria, Kibbutz Hashomer Hatzair, Shalom Cohen

Duration: 4 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 11 May 2017