Prime Minister Menachem Begin stood before the Knesset two weeks ago Monday to give his report on the Camp David talks. He had barely begun his speech when a husky female voice from the left side of the Knesset called out, "Point of order."
There was a gasp among the 120 Knesset mambers as all eyes turned toward a black-haired, ample-bosomed woman who was leaning forward in her seat.
The speaker of the Knesset, Yitzhak Shamir, refused to give her the floor and the prime minister tried to resume his speech.
"I demand, the resignation of the prime minister," said Geula Cohen.
This time there was a hushed silence and all eyes turned toward Begin, formerly one of Cohen's closest friends and colleagues, her political role model.
Begin stood quietly at the podium, obviously upset.
When the speaker threatened to call Cohen to order, she reminded him that Begin himself, in his day, had been barred from the sessions because he was disruptive.
Exasperated, the speaker warned Cohen she would be thrown out if she continued.
But she was at it again, more emotional than ever.
At last members of the Knesset, even those of her own party, became so disgusted with her behavior that they voted to remove her.
"I respect the dignity of the house, so I will leave," she replied. "But I do not respect the dignity of the premier." And she shouted one final shot at her former ally. "He is not bringing peace or security or honor. He is bringing us the re-partition of Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel, the promised land)."
Leaving, finally, she went to the speaker's office where she collapsed from emotion. 'The Right Thing'
Later she would say, "I got up that morning, sure I was going to do the right thing.
"Imagine," she says, "the speaker, who was in the Stern group [one never says Stern gang in Israel. It is not done], the leader of the 'Lechi' [another name for the Stern "group"] cooperates with the leader of the Irgun [the other, less militant, underground movement during the Israeli war for independence] to throw out a member of the Irgun and the Stern group against Eretz Israel. What's going on here?" 'I Am a Fighter'
Today at 52 Geula Cohen is a household word in Israel. There is no one who doesn't know about the fiery Yemenite woman who attacked her own prime minister on his big day in the Knesset. And there is no one who doesn't know exactly where Geula Cohen stands politically. SHe is a hawk, an extreme Zionist, a supporter of the ultra-right-wing group Gush Emunim. When the Gush Emunim settlers took their place atop a mountain on the West Bank after the Camp Daivd agreements, and had to be dragged down by Israeli troops, Geula Cohen was with them.
Today she is ready to march in the street, spill blood, die for the cause, to keep the settlements in the Sinai, and West Bank, to keep the Golan Heights, to keep Jerusalem.
She lives in a modern apartment building in Tel Aviv, on one of the top floors, alone with her 22-year-old son. The apartment is done in black and red, filled with hand-embroidered pillows and cushions, done in a very Oriental manner. "I learned needlework when I was in prison," she says. "I love to do it. It is very relaxing."
She wears a tight-fitting red T-shirt, a black ankle-length cotton-and-lace peasant skirt. Her black hair is tousled, her eyes kohl-rimmed. She looks more like a gypsy tea-leaf reader than a former member of the Stern "group," now a powerful member of the Knesset.
"I am a fighter," says Geula Cohen, sitting on a cushion near the floor, leaning forward intently. "Once I used a gun; once I used a pen. Now I use my mouth. I'm there when somebody needs me. If we don't have something to live for we don't exist. The borders are part of our homeland. It goes with our history. Without our past history we can't go on making history. It's not geographical. It's biographical."
Now her voice catches with emotion, her hands begin waving, she cluthces her heart. She is moved by what the Israelis would call a mystical fervor.
"I can live without a hand," she says, "I can live without one lung; I can live without a leg, without an eye, without two eyes." Her voice softens now. "But I cannot live without my heart. Without my soul. You can tell meto live without Palestine. But the map of Palestine is in our souls."
Part of her passion, her caring, her concern, she thinks, comes from her Oriental Jewish background, from the fact that though she was born in Israel her mother was a Moroccan Jew, her father a Yeminite Jew. Partly she attributes it to being a woman, unafraid to express her feelings. But mostly, she says, it is because her father was a political organizer and, "all my life I was political-minded. Three times a day when we went to the table we thanked God, not just for our bread but for Jerusalem, for the Holy Land, and to bring the people to Israel. We didn't ask anything for ourselves. I was raised with the history of this land. All the heroes of Israel sat with us at the table. It was part of our bread, a part of everyday life." Not Radical Enough
When she was 12 she joined the Beitar, a Zionist youth movement. "The first song we sang was 'There are two sides to the Jordan River, this one is mine and the other one is mine.' We sang it day and night. Jordan was not a name of a country. It was the name of a river that cut our land in half. This song becomes part of your blood. When you sing you can't lie. When I talk, I lie here and there, but never when I sing."
Throughout the conversation, things she says will remind her of Begin, who, though she says she doesn't worship idols, has been her mentor all of her life, and is now her greatest disappointment.
"Begin," she says, "as the leader of the Irgun, sent men to fight singing that song. Twelve who went to the gallows wrote it on their cells."
When she was 15 a friend approached her and told her of a secret terrorist underground group called the Irgun and asked her to join it. "She didn't have to convince me." At that time she was studying the Jerusalem to be a teacher, an occupation which bored her. In her last year the principal called her in, told her she was suspected of being in an underground terrorist group and expelled her.
"So you see," she laughs, "the knesset isn't the first place I've been thrown out of. Even then I had a temper. Even than I spoke my mind."
Yet she was disenchanted with the Irgun. They were not radical enough for her. "I kept saying, 'Why don't we fight the British? Our enemy is Hitler but the British won't let our refugees come to Israel. They are closing the gates. Why don't we fight them?"
Finally she met some young men in the Stern "group" and was immediately fascinated. "In the Irgun they called them bad names; they were against the Stern group. They said they were still fighting. That was all I needed. I went looking for them. I was the only one who ever left the Irgun to join the Stern group." Tried and Convicted
The Stern "group" had a platform in those days, she says. It was that the British would open the gates to the Jews trying to immigrate from Europe and that after the war the British would fulfil their promise to help establish a Jewish state. Without those conditions there would be violence.
Geula Cohen's job in the Stern "group" was as a broadcaster. But she was soon caught, and put in prison. She tried to run away twice before the trial, once she was shot and badly wounded. Caught finally and tried, she was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.
"You want to know where I get my inner powers," she says with a slight swagger. "I'll tell you. While the trial was going on, my mother came every day. She was breast-feeding my younger brother at the time. While at the trial at the moment I was sentenced, my brother fainted and fell on the floor. Suddenly I heard a sound, like someone singing. My mother was standing up, my brother still at her feet on the floor, and she was singing the 'Hatikva' (the Israeli national anthem). She forced the judge and the whole court to stand to attention."
She shudders, rubs her hands over her arms and blinks back the beginnings of tears. "I tell you, I tell you," she begins, then gets control of herself. "What a scene from a movie," she laughs.
Then she stood up. Without a lawyer, she defended her own case, telling the court that she was sorry she couldn't go on fighting them. "I'm sure the judge thought my mother's singing was stronger than my speech. I have less power, even today, than my mother did. I'm sorry to tell you that. And I'm sorry to tell you that the people of Israel have much less of a deep belief that holds them, than our parents had." Escape
For a year and a half, Cohen was in prison, trying to escape three times, being wounded once, finally some Arabs from a nearby village helped her escape by dressing her up as one of them. And she went back to the underground.
"I dyed my hair blond, put on glasses, pulled my hair back, wore high heels. I changed entirely. Even my mother didn't recognize me. When I came back to the microphone the color of my hair had changed, but I didn't change the color of my voice. I looked like a lady but I spoke like a fighter." There were few women in the Stern "group" and, says Cohen, they were always asking to participate in the action, the fighting.
"I knew I could contribute more in broadcasting. I'm not a feminist. I know men do some things better than I do and I do some things better than they; I don't have a complex. So I went on a few missions but I never shot; I was never in violent action."
When the British left just before the war began in 1948, Cohen says, "I was crying in my heart. It was a state without Jerusalem, without the heart of Palestine. Our history was cut. To cut our history means you have to cut all our prayer books, all our songs. All our poems. They don't know what they're going to do now, Begin and these people. We've live for 2,000 years with the hope we'll come back. The minute the West Bank becomes a Palestinian state we will lose the hope forever. Begin helped it to be. Our whole spiritual and cultural life will change." Upset once more she stops speaking and waits until her pulse slows down before she continues with her story. The war began and after a brief stint in the army she rejoined the Stern "group," changed her identity again and married a high commander in the group, Emmanuel Hanegbi, who has since died.
The Stern "group" then undertook to assassinate Count Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. mediator in Jerusalem at the time. That act split the "group" and it began to break up. 'You Are a Present'
"The majority tried to establish a new party," says Cohen. "I didn't go with them. It's my fate to bread away form parties," she says with a grin. "We had many philosophical questions to answer. Why didn't we go on fighting in Jordan, to free the land we had?"
She and the minority established a radical magazine called The Ladder (of Jacob, symbolizing your feet on the ground, your head in the sky). She worked on that for 15 years, studied Judeaism and Hebrew philosophy at Hebrew University, had two sons, one of whom died of spinal meningitis. Eventually she left her husband and moved to Tel Aviv where she began to write a column for Maariv, one of the leading newspapers.
She also wrote a book, "A Woman of Violence."
It wasn't until 1972 that she joined Herut, the right-wing political party. "I'm not good at political parties. I'm allergic to the establishment," she says. "But at that time I felt such identity with the party that I joined. Begin was leading the opposition - the labor party was in power - at that time and I thought he was right. I phoned him and told him I was coming to help him. I knew there was a danger that the government might give back the land. For me it's not land. It's my identity. My future. So I went with the opposition to prevent them from giving it away." She smiles, stares quietly out of her window as she remembers something, then looks back and says rather wistfully, "Begin was so happy when I came to him. He told me he was happier about me coming to the party then anybody. He said, 'You are a present for me.'"
Her face begins to harden with anger, the blood rushing to her cheeks, her fists clenching.
"Now, now by the mistakes of Begin . . . He thought he would save Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) by giving back the Sinai. He was wrong. He has made every political mistake. He says we will live in peace. Living doesn't mean being alive. That's what the Americans think.
I am thinking of the generations to come. Zionism.When you say living you think of my personal security. I am ready to give my life for Eretz Yirael. Begin has sent us to the gallows to give up Palestine for peace now." 'The New Zionism'
Last Friday night on a television program, Geula Cohen was letting forth with a particularly heavy blast of anti-Begin rhetoric. Begin was watching the show at home.He reportedly became so emotionally upset by her criticisms of him that he began to have palpitations, and, conscious of his heart condition, had himself hospitalized over the Rosh Hashana weekend.
Guela Cohen is unmoved. "I am nothing compared to what Begin would be like if the Labor Party had made the Camp David agreements," she says. "He would be 1,000 times stronger: he would demonstrate, have people throwing themselves on the streets, refusing to leave territories. He once said he would never send a Jewish soldier to expel a Jewish settler. He did everything he said he wouldn't do.He has even recognized the claim of Palestine for their rights. Now it is in our hands. In five years it will be theirs."
Guela Cohen thinks the only answer for Israel is the new breed of Zionists, the extreme Gush Emunim. "Secular Zionism is finished," she says. "The Gush Emunim is the new Zionism. This is where we will get out motivation. We are going to have to pay the price for this. Maybe we'll have to begin at the beginning. But I am willing to go war on this."
She says that Begin is now in a state of euphoria, but that it won't last as, little by little, people to come out of what she calls, "their peace shock."
She says she told Begin when he came to office that he should think of the morale of the Israeli people.
"I expected him to bring back the vision, the faith in ourselves, the powers we once had. But he didn't even try. He thought, 'If I want peace now I must pay. If I want peace in my lifetime I must do it quickly.And only I can do it. Carter knew only Begin could do it.Because Begin was the only person without opposition."
She throws back her head and laughs triumphantly, "Ha, ha," she says, "but they forgot about Guela Cohen."