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August 01, 1986 - Image 73

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-08-01

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Israel's Modern
Mata Haris


Special to The Jewish News

srael's intelligence agency,
the Mossad, is rife with
women operatives, according
to Gay Courter, author of Code
Ezra, a spy thriller recently
published by Houghton-Mifflin
which focuses on Israeli women
as agents. "The reason no one
knows about them is because
they don't surface — they don't
often get caught. And if they
aren't getting caught, that
means they're doing their jobs
rIb research her novel, Courter
spent the better part of 1983
and 1984 in Israeli living rooms
talking to men and women who
served the Mossad during the
War of Independence and in
later years.
It is a well-known fact, she
said in an interview, that women
were active in the Palmach, the
strike force of the Haganah, the
British-mandate progenitor of
the Israel Defense Forces, but
those who went completely
underground are just now able
to talk. Israeli secrecy laws pro-
hibit retired Mossad operatives
from discussing their activities
for several decades.
Courter theorized that women
excel in espionage for several
reasons. "They do well in acting
and deception," she said. "They
also shine in long-term, tedious
assignments without getting
bored — or needing to take
credit. I was told several times
that in similar situations young
men had nervous breakdowns —
and the women operatives were
then used to get them out of the
country. Maybe women have a
genetic trait for endurance that
comes from raising children," she
In practical terms, she said, a
career in espionage is much
easier to finesse on a resume for
a woman than a man.
"When there is a 10-year gap
on someone's job resume, a
woman can always _say she took
time out to have a baby," said
the author. "What can a man
say? As a result, the career op-
portunities for a man following
a life in espionage may be much
more limi ted.' '
According to Courter, the com-
mon threads which ran through
all the women she interviewed
for her novel were their commit-
ment and tremendous devotion
to Israel.
"Sometimes this is hard to ex-
plain to Americans," she said.
"But every Israeli mother raises
a child to go into the army at 18.
Intelligence is basically the
gathering of information to pre-
vent warfare. Women who
gather information are essential-
ly trying . to prevent their
children from going to war."
It is not uncommon for Israeli
women to juggle careers in es-
pionage with marriages — often
to other agents — and childrear-
ing. Courter told of one woman
who hid her radio transmitters
in her daughter's dolls. "Some


might ask, 'What kind of Jewish
mother would endanger her
child like that?' but she didn't
see it that way."
In fact, she added, the
daughter joined in whole-
heartedly. Once when they were
shopping for dolls, the child ad-
vised her mother to buy one that
had seams that were easy to
Courter said she was able to
better gather information for her
novel because she was writing
"If I had been a journalist,' I
wouldn't have had the entre," she
said. "But since I was writing
fiction, it wasn't important for
me to know names and places,
but rather what it felt like to be
a spy, how decisions are made,
how operatives functioned in
terms of things like radio
transmitters and passports.
"A lot of the stories in the
book really did happen; some are
fairly well known because they
surfaced when the spies involv-
ed were caught. Fiction often

Women agents are
not getting caught.

has to be toned down from real
life in order to be believable. This
certainly was the case in writing
Code Ezra," she said.
The 41-year old Courter, who
lives in Florida with her hus-
band and two children, comes
honestly by her interest in
undercover activity. In 1947, her
father, a New York businessman,
"was helping Israel procure sup-
plies and materiel for the impen-
ding Israeli war," she said.
As a youngster growing up in
suburban Mt. Vernon, she recall-
ed, there was a chance meeting
at a train station "when a man
unknown to me walked over to
my father, embraced him and
called him by a name that was
not his name. My father likewise
called him by a name I subse-
quently learned was not [the
The man, Raphael Elan, had
just moved to town and the
families became fast friends.
Courter, who described herself
as having a vivid imagination
even as a child, fantasized at the
time that Elan was a spy. At a
reunion nine years ago, her
suspicions were confirmed. "He
was just at the point when he
could reveal more of what he had
done," she said. Through his
help, she was able to research the
Courter acknowledges that
women writers of espionage fic-
tion are almost as low-profile as
women spies.
"Perhaps women don't write
espionage because they neither
have the background in war nor
have buddies that do. I would
never have written Code Ezra if
I hadn't come in contact with
Raffee — I needed him to help
me connect with an old girl spy

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