Chapter 5/ The French Hill
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'Kill the Jews wherever you find them!' (King Hussein of Jordan to his troops,
on Radio Amman, 12.15 pm, Wednesday June 7th 1967, the third day of the Six Day
Two almost concurrent little rites of passage towards the end of 1963 - Uri's
one guinea afternoon tryst with Lola, the bleached blonde Nicosia prostitute,
and the handing over of his British GCE (General Certificate of Education) by
Father Camillo - marked almost the end of the Gellers' time in Cyprus. On the
macro scale, meanwhile, the island had become simply too dangerous to be there
voluntarily. Two hundred Turkish Cypriots had been killed in inter-communal fighting,
and hostile fighter jets despatched from mainland Turkey were making menacing
passes over Nicosia. Three attempted Turkish naval invasions were only thwarted
by the alert American Sixth Fleet, and civil war seemed inevitable. The British
Colonial Secretary, Duncan Sandys cancelled his Christmas holiday to fly to the
Island. Shortly afterwards, in the early spring, UN troops started to arrive,
and Margaret and Uri began to settle their affairs in Cyprus. There was no longer
any point in being there. Uri was close to finishing school, there were virtually
no visitors any more, not even undercover Israelis, and certainly no travelling
show people to make the business worth running. Hotels were closing down all over
the island. In addition, Uri would be 18 soon and have to return to Israel for
his military service.
The Pension Ritz's shabby furniture was sold off, and a buyer found for the building.
Margaret's relatives in Tel Aviv located a modest city centre flat for her to
buy. Mother and son shipped their heavy goods, including a white Vespa scooter
Uri had bought, ahead to Limassol. On the day of sailing, Uri and Margaret got
cars to take them, their suitcases and Joker to the port, where a mini disaster
ensued. The customs people decided to examine the suitcases slowly and carefully,
and somehow, the ship, with dog and most, but crucially not all, of the Geller
household aboard sailed for Haifa. Uri cheerfully suggested, as they had some
money, that they fly, but there was no aircraft leaving for Israel for another
two days. They ended up that night back at the Ritz, camping out in the empty
hotel with its new owner's permission.
But these complications are inevitable during such a major move, even for those
with psychic powers, and soon the Gellers plus Joker were safely reunited in Israel,
and installed in the flat. This was a little cramped and dingy, but was in a reasonable
location on Trumpeldor Street, 500 metres equidistant between the beach and the
central business, restaurant and entertainment hotspot of Dizengoff Circle. It
was an exceptionally noisy street, narrow and with buses roaring past every couple
of minutes. But immediately opposite the flat, behind a three metre high stone
wall, was a relatively quiet, and very grand, ancient graveyard, where many of
the famous pioneers of the Israeli state rest in a semblance of peace.
Practically the first thing Uri did was to ditch for good his adopted Cyprus name.
George Geller was no more, and doesn't welcome even old Cyprus friends using the
name today. ('I called him George on the telephone once, about five years ago,'
says Ardash Melemendjian, 'and he said, "Don't call me that my name is Uri."
I replied, "OK, I didn't know you minded." I was surprised by how he
obviously felt about it.') However, coming back to Israel was not really a matter
of re-establishing an old identity. He had left Israel as a bewildered, confused
and unhappy little boy and come back a rather more confident man. He had no particular
old friends to look up, and indeed, at this point, had the choice of re-inventing
himself as pretty much anything he wanted. As someone who was a fully-fledged
Israeli, but still an outsider as a result of spending his formative years abroad,
and was also a loner for at least three reasons (only child, no friends in Tel
Aviv and feeling, at least, haunted by perplexing supernatural powers) the idea
of being in the Israeli Secret Service seemed oddly more suitable than ever. He
had this possible career path in mind thanks to one of his role models, his friend
Yoav Shacham, but this was not to forget the military ideal which his father represented.
Most sons try to imitate their father, to gain their approval, and Uri Geller
was no different. He knew he had to build a shining army career before the Mossad
would consider him; and, if being a James Bond didn't eventually work out, Uri,
being no intellectual, was perfectly willing to set his sights on the army and
simply follow Tibor. But the problem, as it turned out, was that Uri was no great
soldier. Not that he was a wimp; he could do the physical stuff easily. But his
innate individualism, which as a kid had made the communalism of the kibbutz horrific
to him, similarly made the army and the whole ethic of teamwork highly unappealing.
The Israeli Defence Forces and Uri Geller were not, at the end of the day, quite
made for one another.
For the moment, however, in the spring of 1964, Uri couldn't wait to get into
uniform. He kicked happily around all summer and autumn, awaiting his 18th birthday,
doing odd jobs to make money to help his mother out, building a social life and
going through his army medicals. In the evenings and at weekends, Uri played basketball
again, and became known for what was called his 'golden left hand'. But, psychic
prodigy or not, for the time being, Uri Geller, international superstar-to-be,
was just another Mediterranean teenager whizzing noisily and irritatingly around
the streets on a scooter. 'My first job was as a construction site worker,' he
recalls. 'I used to carry cement in buckets from the truck to the building site
and then pour them into the site. Every bucket weighed about 100 kilos, but it
was fun. I looked at it positively, and I started bringing some money home. My
second job, my father arranged for me. I was to be a desk clerk at a hotel in
Eilat. So I went down and had the time of my life, because there were hippies
there and all kinds of beautiful girls from all around the world. I was 17 and
had my own room in the hotel. It was warm in Eilat, there was the beach, and every
night, I had another girl.'
Back in Tel Aviv after the summer, the Vespa came into its own. 'I worked as a
delivery boy delivering architectural plans in long tubes around the city. I had
a really bad boss. He was just ruthless. I was so angry at him - everyone was
- that one day when he asked me to make him tea, I peed in it. I am a good natured
person, but I needed revenge on that occasion. I could have done a lot of mind
stuff to him. Today, knowing what my power can do is awesome, but I don't think
I realised then that I could activate these powers. And anyway, I don't seem to
be able to do anything negative. And making my boss's watches and clocks move,
I think, would only have entertained him rather than angered him.' (It was interesting
that the thought of using or attempting to use his mental powers, or the belief
that he had such powers, for malicious purposes had not occurred to Uri more often
in his youth. He is able to rationalise things now, as an adult, and conclude
that, for some reason, he seems unable to do harm; however, there must have been
a certain irritation on his part as a boy that he could 'bend' basketball rings
in his favour and snap spoons in half for entertainment, but not, say, snap his
boss's brake pipes. His feeling that he 'could have done a lot of mind stuff'
to this unpleasant boss may, then, be an emotion a little in the mould of poor
King Lear - 'I will do such things - what they are, yet I know not - but they
shall be the terrors of the earth.')
As the time of Uri's military induction
approached, he toyed with alternative specialities to apply for within the forces.
Having enjoyed scuba diving in Cyprus, being a frogman appealed. So did flying,
but above all, being a paratrooper. In that way some parents have, Tibor put pressure
on his son to achieve what he had been unable to. Tibor Geller was one of life's
master sergeants - able, brave, dedicated, long-serving, but never quite officer
material. Sometimes, he thought it was the strong Hungarian accent which had held
him back. Uri didn't have this, and Tibor openly told the 18 year-old that he
would love him to be an officer. The paras, appealed to Uri for the best of reasons;
he loved the image - the green beret, which was exchanged for red when you got
your wings, the different kind of shirt from the regular grunts, the special boots
with crepe soles. The paras' mystique was part of the image. They were an entirely
volunteer force within the professional army, trained in the art of killing swiftly
and silently, with unconventional weapons, often at night, as the enemy slept.
Uri's father warned him that the paras would be tougher than he could imagine,
but the boy's mind was already set.
December, the month of Uri's birthday, came. He went off by bus to the processing
centre in Jaffa, was allocated service number 9711 71, and by the end of the day,
was settling into a tent with seven strangers at a boot camp. The camp, a flurry
of moustachioed, yelling sergeant majors and frantically running recruits, contained
blocks where rookies could volunteer for the different branches of the services
if they aspired to being more than a regular trooper. There were desks where you
could apply to the air force, to the navy, to the infantry - or the paratroops.
A couple of days later, Uri was on the back of a truck heading north for Netanya,
where the paratroop training camp was. Weeks of running around the base at the
double with a 40 pound kitbag (you weren't allowed to walk anywhere for the first
three months), of obstacle courses and of lengthy marches (which Uri particularly
hated) led to the purpose of it all - the first parachute jump from an aircraft.
Paratroopers had to make seven jumps before they could wear the red beret. Recruit
Geller's first jump, on a hot day at a nearby airfield, went perfectly. They got
progressively worse from then on.
On his second, he panicked and fell clumsily, jarring himself. A subsequent jump,
at 4 am in the Negev desert almost killed him. He was already edgy before the
jump. He had had a dream the night before that he was going to die that morning.
Uri, in what some might say was a rare case of him not placing the most supernatural
possible construction on a seemingly prophetic event, says he appreciated that
dreaming of dying on a jump was a fairly normal thing for a paratrooper to do.
But as he and his colleagues were on the way to the airfield, a white dog ran
out in front of their truck and was killed, a moment which added to his unease
by reminding him of the death of his first dog, Tzuki. Thoroughly rattled now,
he messed up the jump, banged into the side of the aeroplane and went into a spin.
His main chute failed to fill with air properly, leaving him in the graphically-named
and deadly 'candle fall'. He then failed to deploy his reserve chute properly,
and was convinced as the desert floor approached, and with the reserve tangled
around his face, blinding him, that he was milliseconds from death. But at the
last instant, the big chute had opened, and he landed praying that he would never
go through such an experience again. The experience did not stop him from completing
the course with a last jump, with which he got his wings.
Immediately after this came a fascinating incident, one to which there is not
a single witness - but about which both sceptics and believers in Geller may well
find themselves feeling it proves their point. Practically nothing psychic by
Uri's definition had happened to him or around him since he came back to Israel.
That part of his life almost seemed to be behind him, in adolescence, as if the
things that had been happening to him since he was three were, maybe, the type
of poltergeist phenomena which occasionally occur around disturbed, unhappy children
(perhaps because they are merely misbehaving) and vanish in adulthood. Uri puts
the disappearance of his powers at this time down to pressure of time. 'You are
constantly occupied and busy in the army. You wake up at 4.30 in the morning,
you have to clean your gun, you have to shine your shoes, you have to quickly
have breakfast and get off to manoeuvres. This is a non-stop three years. There
is no time for nothing except maybe to write a letter. My big moment of freedom
was when I was able to jump to the canteen and buy myself the equivalent of a
Mars Bar and take off the thin silver foil wrapper and just indulge in the taste
of that chocolate melting in my mouth. That was my pleasure. There was no time
Uri's first assignment as a para, he says, was a 110 km march into the Negev as
a heavy machine gunner, carrying with two other men a Browning machine gun some
80 pounds in weight. The gun broke down for transport into three parts, body,
legs and ammunition, of which the heaviest was the body, and was Geller's responsibility
to carry. Worse still, it was his job to parachute jump with the gun's body, which
army tradition maintained was the hardest task in existence. The plan for the
exercise, which would, if successful, gain him his corporal's stripes, was this:
once down in the Negev, the team would be taken by truck out further into the
desert with kit bags, then make a jump with the Browning equipment and march back
10 km to their base camp carrying it.
Let us say at this point that all young men, in virtually all societies, are adept
at thinking up dodges from their responsibilities; it is almost part of the young
male condition to circumvent imposed rules, while gaining the maximum advantage
or pleasure for oneself. Yet at the same time, Uri Geller in his paratroop unit
was - or, perhaps, ought to have been - a very unusual type of young male. Here
he was, a volunteer in a crack unit, with his own military reputation at stake,
by which he set great store. Here he was with his much loved and admired father's
standing in the army at stake too, and his relationship with his father, and his
standing in the eyes of his other significant role model, the secret agent Yoav
Shacham, whom he planned one day soon to emulate and to be going to for a job.
Here he was, additionally, with a small part of Israel's precarious security in
his hands; for an Israeli, in an imperilled, besieged nation, to duck and dive
on military service is a much more serious matter than for, say, a US serviceman
to do a Sergeant Bilko, and have a free ride at the expense of Uncle Sam. But
bearing all this in mind, Uri decided to cheat - big time. He hatched a plan to
get off a duty lightly - yet in being rescued from the consequences of his dishonesty,
he experienced what he regards as the second most profound paranormal occurrence
of his life, to be topped only by a staggering (and in this case semi-witnessed)
event many years later in New York.
His working out of a cunning plan of deception in the paratroopers was not only
foolhardy at the time - for what he did, he could have been flung in a military
prison for months and suffered a stain on his record for the rest of his life.
It will also reflect rather poorly for some critics on how he should subsequently
be regarded in his psychic career. If, after all, we are to believe what we see
in Uri Geller rather than see what we believe, we need to know that he is fundamentally
honest; if we are accept him as a separate species from the run-of-the-mill conjurer,
we are required to believe him when he protests his innocence from the knowledge
of conjurors' tricks. Yet what he did on a tough Negev army exercise, albeit as
the act of a young, inexperienced former Tel Aviv street urchin, was not just
fleetingly dishonest, but was a carefully prepared plan of deceptive action, aimed
to pull the wool over several people's eyes. All a little disturbing - except
for one major point: this account of what happened does not emerge as the result
of surreptitious investigation. Geller tells it himself. Whether we believe the
paranormal part of it or not - and he admits candidly that it takes some believing
- it is his own account. And if a miscreant is honest about his own dishonesty,
for many people, a certain superstructure of trust is immediately constructed.
Thus it may even be (if we rule out, for a moment, some complex double bluff)
that by admitting the shady circumstances which preceded the following, Geller
will gain some credibility. .
This, then, was Uri Geller's plan, and how it fell bafflingly apart. The Browning
gun body, he realised when he looked carefully at its construction, could actually
be broken down still further. If the heavy tube inside the gun barrel and the
mechanism which fed the ammunition through were removed, the shell of the gun
could be placed in its canvas bag so as it looked from the outside like the full
body, but weighed tens of pounds lighter. Since the exercise of dropping with
the full body of the gun was purely a fitness test, and they were not going to
need to use the Browning after they landed, and since he was still edgy about
parachuting after his near-lethal tangle of a few days previously, why not, he
figured, remove the innards of the gun and leave them safely in his kit bag back
at base camp? He could then carry at a stroll the canvas bag on the 10 km hike
after the jump. He ran through the physical reality of this tempting plan as carefully
as any magician plotting a complex stage event. He would have to make certain
that none of his comrades got to carry the bag, as they would be likely to feel
it was underweight, and he daren't risk anyone discovering his secret. But - significantly
again, for critics of Geller - he calculated that he could get away with it.
The moment of the jump came, and passed safely. The case, which was heavy enough,
he winced, without its essential contents, was strapped to Uri for the jump, and
let loose on a five-metre cable for the landing, to avoid him being injured by
it on impact. He packed up his chute and slung the useless Browning over his shoulder
for the march. Soon came the first problem - and with it, the first fascinating
indication to Uri, perhaps, that people could, as magicians always say, be convinced
to see (or in this case, feel) what they believe. Seeing Uri striding ahead robustly
even though he was supposedly carrying the lion's share of the Browning, one of
his pals insisted on helping him; 'Look at poor Geller, they were all saying,
he's carrying that bloody thing on his own.' So, wary of protesting too much,
he let his friend carry the bag up a hill. But far from working out that Geller
had cheated and wasn't carrying a full load, the young man mis-perceived the situation,
and marvelled that he had never been able to carry this part of the gun further
than a few hundred metres without a rest, but now could. He must, he puffed as
he handed the gun back to Uri at the top of the hill, be getting stronger. Uri
was trying, he now recalls, to suppress himself from laughing, when he saw something
which made him practically throw up with fear.
A Jeep scrunched up alongside the group of men as the rested on a cliff edge.
In it was a General. Uri knew at once that his game was spectacularly up. Very
occasionally on such a dummy run, the commanders would spring a surprise on a
random bunch of soldiers, and put them through a full-blooded manoeuvre, in which
they would have to shoot with live ammunition at an imaginary enemy ambush. It
was an excellent way of keeping the men on their mettle even during a relatively
benign training routine, as well as giving them a chance to try their skills against
the kind of danger that very well might face them; in 1964, Israel had not been
at war for eight years, since the Suez campaign, but a well-armed and angry enemy
was never more than a few miles away, even in the heart of the country, down in
its southern desert.
The staff officers ordered Uri's platoon to spread out and set up the guns, ready
to fire. He was severely scared, and beginning to shake. He did not even want
to take the empty gun case, minus its barrel and firing parts, out of the canvas.
As he did so, his mind racing to think of some way out of such appalling trouble,
he could see daylight through the thing. His companion handed him the ammo belt;
he fed it into the useless shell of the gun and cocked the non-existent mechanism.
Through the lid of the gun, he looked again, in despair now, at the first bullet
waiting to be fired by nothing, hoping ridiculously that something might have
changed, or that it was a bad dream he was about to wake from. The first group
were ordered to fire their gun; the end of Uri Geller was seconds away. The way
ahead was clear; he would be taken away, court martialed and jailed, then, at
the end of what would have been his military service, he would be dishonourably
discharged. His father would certainly never speak to him again. He would have
no friends beyond the riff raff he met in the prison camp - if he was not actually
kept in solitary. His mother would doubtless take pity on him, but would never
be able to hide her tragic disappointment, let down by her husband first, then
her son. If he were lucky, a job as a street cleaner or a lavatory attendant might
be his into old age. If he could not even find anyone to trust him that far, he
might end up joining the few tramps and bums who existed even in such a young,
vital country. the general and the staff officers were hovering just behind him,
their medals gleaming in the sun. As his mind was in freefall, the sergeant major
continued barking orders: 'Company B ... FIRE! .... Company C .... FIRE! ...'
He had a brainwave; it was not one likely to work, but it was certainly evidence,
for all the good it would do Geller, of the quick thinking the young man was capable
of when his back was against the wall in the middle of a deception. He decided
to take his small side arm, a standard-issue Israeli-made Uzi, and surreptitiously
place it next to his dead Browning. When the order came to fire, he would pull
both triggers. The report of the Uzi would be feeble and too sharp to be mistaken
for that of the Browning, but in the noise and confusion and cordite of so many
heavy machine guns firing simultaneously, he might just get away with it. A bit
of chaos, an instinct told him, might work wonders at concealing what he was doing,
perhaps even from the eagle-eyed top brass behind him. They, after all, weren't
expecting the wrong sound to issue from soldier Geller's Browning. They were expecting
the right sound. And it was just, faintly possible, they might hear what they
He heard the command to fire and pulled both triggers. What unfolded
in the next few seconds was a sequence which he claims he still relives 35 years
later. He insists vigorously that it was not a fantasy or a daydream. Yes, he
knows he was always famed for his imagination as a child; he admits willingly
that he had a wondrous ability as a young teenager to spin compelling stories
out of nothing and to keep an audience rapt; he needs no reminding that what he
maintains happened out in the Negev sounds suspiciously like one of his science
fiction flights of fancy. Both guns fired. The spent cartridges spat out of the
Browning until there was no ammunition left. His first thought was that God had
intervened, and as he has never had any other explanation for it, that tends to
remain his belief. An officer behind Uri, impressed no doubt by the young man's
gusto at loosing two firearms simultaneously, even leant down to tap him on the
helmet and say, 'Good shooting, soldier.' Trembling, Uri put his hand on the hot
gun, which was now dripping black oil, and kissed it. There had been an incident
not unlike it once in the past, when as a boy, he visited his father, who was
in charge of the gun storage at his base. Having carefully checked the that a
machine gun was empty, Tibor let Uri handle it as a treat. Uri pulled the trigger,
and a single bullet shot out; badly shaken, Tibor put it down to a mistake, and
Uri to just one of the strange things that happened to him around metal. The incident
with the Browning, however, was immense in comparison, yet there was no-one he
could tell, not even in the rush of satisfaction and good humour which swept through
the men as the officers drove off, leaving them with a short march back to the
camp. He had told his closest army friend, a man called Avram Stedler, something
about his powers, and his dream of being a spy, but knew that if he tried to tell
even Avram such a story as this, he would probably abandon Uri as a friend.
What happened, or what Uri perceived had happened, would already be enough to
unhinge most people. When Uri got back to the camp, he was naturally anxious to
examine whatever it was he imagined he had so deceitfully left in his kit bag.
And now came, if such a thing can be imagined, a still greater shock. He peeped
into his kit and saw the barrel and firing parts of the gun, exactly where he
had left them. He went back to the canvas bag to look at the Browning again. The
case was empty, just as it had been on the cliff edge when the general and the
officers pounced on his unit. He returned to the kit bag and drew out the internal
gun parts. The apparatus had been clean when he left for the exercise a few hours
earlier; it was now oily and blackened - just as it would have been had it been
fired. The mechanism had clearly been fired; it even needed cleaning. Yet by any
rational standards, it had not left the kit bag.
The sequence of events as he saw it gave Uri, to put it mildly, a few things to
think about as he cleaned the gun. His mind was full of Cyprus, of the light in
the Arabic garden when he was three, of the bent spoons and the telepathy with
Mrs Agrotis. What had happened presaged the kind of bizarre madness that would
happen around him - much of it with witnesses - over the coming decades. But in
his tent in the Negev, anxious as he was to unburden himself, there was absolutely
nobody he could share it with. Could he talk about to someone else? Perhaps Yoav,
if he saw him again? But that would mean admitting the dreadful deception to his
macho-man military hero. 'I knew no-one would believe me. What would I say to
someone? That I left the barrel in my kit bag and then it reappeared shooting?
I just decided not to think about it, because it might make me insane. I thought,
maybe I am crazy and I never really hid the barrel; I only think I did. But I
know I didn't. I am a logical person; I know my deeds. I don't take drugs, I don't
drink, nothing can alter my consciousness or subconscious or clarity and thinking.
When something like that happens you are amazed and shocked, and because of the
shock, you erase it and try not to think about it any more. Lots of soldiers find
all kinds of tricks to ease their struggle through military. If I thought that
I was going crazy, what would others think?'
His military service continued untouched by paranormal phenomena. He got his corporal
stripe, and was recommended for officer training. Sometimes, he says, something
like a knife would bend on the table in front of him without him trying to do
anything. But so long as they went unseen by his colleagues, these events served
as a micro reminder of what he strongly believed by now - that he was under the
protection of some outside force, which was unfathomable, but at least was not
malevolent towards him.
He went off to officer school. Out on a field exercise in teeming rain one day,
he was overjoyed to come across Yoav Shacham. Shacham was doing a stint as a paratroop
officer, and was delighted to hear that Uri was taking the path he was. He asked
if Uri was still doing telepathy, and reasserted his feeling that Uri's abilities
could be put to good use in due course. Uri confirmed that he still dreamed of
being a spy for the Mossad. Yoav encouraged him to put all his effort for the
moment into officer school, then to go back to the paratroopers and establish
a fine record there as an officer. They parted. A short while later, two tragedies,
one minor, one cataclysmic, struck. Firstly, while Uri was at home on leave, Joker
the dog had to be put down by the vet, as he was dying of old age and in pain.
Uri had to control himself, aware of being a para even when on home leave, from
crying in the street outside the vet's. Then, as soon as he got back to camp after
the same leave, he picked up a newspaper to read of the death of an Israeli officer
during a cross-border raid into Jordan. The officer, who was the only casualty
of the raid, had been killed by a bullet in the head. He was named as Joav Shacham.
part of Uri's world had crumbled. By his account, the bereavement led directly
to his performance at officer school beginning to tail off sharply. He fell asleep
on a night exercise, had to be kicked awake by an officer, and was thrown off
his training course the next day. 'Yoav was the key to the door for my future,'
Uri says. 'His death in this really small raid sank me into despair, firstly because
I loved him I cared for him, and then because I knew my career was down the drain.
Only he really knew of my powers. So I couldn't care less any more about officer
school, and apart from telling my father, who was devastated but advised me to
try again, leaving and going back to my unit was a great relief. A big responsibility
was lifted, and I felt fine about it.'
A certain amount of what might be termed interesting dissonance surrounds two
areas of Uri's time at the officers' academy; and as with his admission of cheating
over the Browning gun incident, there is again scope for several ways of looking
at each. What follows can be seen as both pro and anti Geller - depending, as
does so much in assessing the Geller phenomenon, on one's viewpoint.
The first of these questions concerns precisely why he left officer school. Uri
says himself that his departure was very much under a cloud, but a rumour persists
in Israel that there was more to it than his simply falling asleep on an exercise.
'When Uri left,' says Eytan Shomron, his childhood pal from the kibbutz, who briefly
bumped into Uri at the academy, his friends in his platoon said that when he did
the sociometric tests, when you had to make a list of your best friends, he was
the lowest, and that was why he was thrown out. I'm not at all sure it was the
truth, but that's the rumour. You know what such rumours are like in Israel.'
Another ex-student at the academy, Miron Givon, who was actually on Uri's course,
although not in his classes, fleshes the story out a little. 'Uri Geller's reputation
as a potential officer wasn't really very good,' says Givon. 'He was one of the
first cadets of whom the cadets themselves recommended under this new system of
appraisal they brought in, that maybe he was not suitable to be an officer in
the Israeli army.'
'I don't think he enjoyed the reputation of a serious person. At that time it
was very important that you had to be an example to everybody, and what I heard
was that he wasn't always very loyal to his friends and he tried to do everything
for his benefit and not for the good of the group or the team or the class he
worked with. You have to understand that at that time, most of the cadets came
from either the kibbutzim or the moshavim [collective villages], as I did. So
Uri was from a completely different part of the society, which meant that he wasn't
regarded from the start as classic material for an officer at that time. We always
tried to volunteer for all kinds of missions without thinking about ourselves.
We thought it was a good cause. We were very naive at the time, but he wasn't
the type to jump if he wasn't going to get some benefit out of it.'
A note might be appropriate at this point, as Shomron suggests - and Miron Givon
also warned - about the whole question of rumours in Israel: there is a saying
which goes, 'Two Israelis, three opinions.' National generalisations are dangerous
territory, but Israelis themselves do complain about the extraordinary disputatiousness
of their people, along with a preponderance of gossip, often malicious and jealously-based,
at every level in their country, from the coffee bar to the Knesset, the Israeli
parliament. This is partly because Israel is a far smaller country than people
realise - it is very much a village. But there is a deeper, more pervasive culture
of embroidering truth for the benefit of the listener, which comes as a surprise
to those who expect this hugely technological, modern nation to display every
characteristic of the west. In the west there is an assumption (often flawed)
that people by and large tell the truth about one another. In Israel, you have
to be rather more careful. At the most important level, people are deeply honest
- there is for example, almost no street theft, and among friends there is a profound
code of truthfulness. Yet to strangers, or when a subject does not matter as much
as telling a colourful story, tongues wag unfettered, and there is often a rampant
flexibility with truth.
This problem has led many unwary and gullible, especially foreigners, who have
tried to research Uri Geller's background into deep difficulties. Some ten years
after the events we are now looking at, a respected Tel Aviv newspaper published
what appeared to be a devastating expose of Geller. The piece is still bandied
about by some as the definitive proof of Geller's fakery. However, within two
years, the then editor had admitted publicly that the entire story, quotes, sources
and all, had been made up. Later still, there was great excitement when a former
manager of Geller admitted to having connived at helping him cheat. He later apologised,
said he was upset with Uri over a financial matter at the time and had invented
his story. Needless to say, the story of Uri Geller being thrown out of officer
school has been seized upon widely, in various exaggerated forms, by those anxious
to construct a case against him. They often say that he was 'cashiered' and thrown
out of the paratroopers, which is, of course a lie - despite the irony that by
Uri's own admission in the Browning gun case that he should have been.
However, one item of gossip in Israel about Uri's military service which is of
considerable interest, yet has been missed in the past, does turn out to contain
an element of truth. A story has it that in bored moments at the officers' academy,
Uri would sometimes perform card tricks. This may seem to be a minor observation
- what young man does not occasionally take an interest in cards? - but in Uri's
case, it is not something he likes to emphasise, anxious as he is to distance
himself from any kind of routine conjurors' skills. Asked about this rumour, Uri
says it is quite possible he did mess around with cards - they are hardly in short
supply in the average barracks - but that he has no memory of being very adept
with them. Yet Miron Givon, who left the army a lieutenant, read economics and
business management at the Hebrew University, and now imports Israeli kibbutz-manufactured
plumbing supplies to Britain, does have a clear recollection. 'I remember Uri
well from among the 120 other cadets because even at that time he had started
to do his tricks, or whatever they can be called. I don't remember any spoon bending,
but he did card tricks, at which he was quite good.'
'He also used to perform seances. People would sit round a table and he took a
cup and put it on the other side and everybody put his finger on this cup and
it started to move it around the table and tell all sorts of stories about everyone
round the table, and what may happen in the near future and all those kinds of
things. I don't think we took it too seriously. It's hard for me to say whether
he did. The interesting thing was that he said, 'I am not a magician', and what
I think about Uri - and I never changed my opinion - was that he tried to be very
honest. That was my feeling. He said he believed he had some kind of extra powers
that everyone has, but not everyone can utilise yet. He didn't try to play God
at all, and to me, some of what he did looked like magicians' tricks, but I'm
not sure. Maybe he's right. Actually, it's not something which bothers me too
much. But I don't have any answer for it.'
Palpably relieved that the strain of officer school was over, Uri accepted for
the first time that he probably was not going to be a great soldier. As pleasurable
as following in a father's footsteps can be, making the decision to take a different
path altogether in life can be equally satisfying. During a week's leave, Uri
took some time off to help his mother move into a smaller but quieter apartment
on a street called Merkaz Ba'alei Melacha, just a few blocks from his childhood
home, and a few metres from the lively Sheinkin Street, now one of the most fashionable
in Tel Aviv. Margaret was now in her mid fifties, and was supplementing her garment
machining work by waitressing in a coffee shop, something Uri found quite distressing.
He wished he could make some money so as she could stop working, but realised
there was nothing he could do about it until he got out of the army. Then, he
made up his mind, he would.
People's life stories in times of global trouble always have a micro and a macro
level. Uri's return to his unit, his head full of career plans for the following
year, when he finished his service, came a few months before the 1967 Six Day
War with the Arab countries. Israel was on the point of having to fight for its
life in what promised to be a David and Goliath struggle far more uneven than
even Britain's lonely fight against Nazi Germany a few years before.
Israel's forces were, in many ways, a motley crew, made up of dozens of different
nationalities. Many of the more senior soldiers were concentration camp survivors,
and they were trained unconventionally compared to most armies. Their equipment
came from mixed sources, and much of it was obsolete, and their supplies of fuel
and munitions were limited. Ranged against Israel were the armies of 14 encircling
countries, thirty times greater in number, and equipped with the latest Soviet
equipment, much of it tried and tested to the highest contemporary standards in
North Vietnam against the Americans. The Egyptians, Israel's most populous enemy,
had the benefit not only of the Soviets behind them, but of a large number of
high ranking former Nazis who came to Cairo to give quiet military and propaganda
advice. It was public knowledge that Israeli intelligence calculated that if war
came, the Jews would have to begin to push the Arab armies back on every front
within ten days to stand a chance of survival. It was a ridiculously unrealistic
target, and consequently, there was a widespread fear that Israel faced total
extermination - something which today, when Israel is perceived internationally
as the aggressive Goliath of the region rather than the David, is often forgotten.
The unbridled international delight at Israel's crushing six day victory in June
1967, may well have ensured that anti- semitism did not prevent the rapturous
reception which a good-looking young Israeli called Geller received when he went
off on a world-wide quest for wealth and fame a few years later. For many years,
these vigorous, talented Israelis and everything they stood for - sunshine, oranges,
socialism-in-action kibbutzim and now, great bravery against ugly aggression -
were exceptionally popular. This was a cultural trend which two rather naff but
good-looking singers called Esther and Abi Ofarim hitched a ride on in 1968 when
they launched themselves on the world with a twee, jolly little song in English,
'Cinderella Rockafella', and were met by a flood tide of goodwill, culminating
in their winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The world outside Israel, which
had little real notion of what Israelis were like before the Six Day War and the
Ofarims, suddenly couldn't get enough of them. In Britain, it was not uncommon
to come upon people who professed to hate Jews, but thought Israelis were wonderful;
they would be profoundly sceptical when it was pointed out to them that, actually,
Israelis were Jews. Thus it may well be that Israeli nationality did more than
merely fail to hinder Uri Geller from succeeding; being Israeli at a crucial time
may have tipped him towards the critical mass which constituted international
stardom; a point to ponder might be whether Geller would have been as successful
had be been Egyptian.
With the war brewing, Uri was made a sergeant
in overall charge of a few command cars and a dozen soldiers. He was just back
into his old routine, when he came down with severe pneumonia. He was in hospital
for a month, where they were already taping up windows and preparing emergency
operating rooms, and then went to an army convalescent station for a few weeks.
There he met an already engaged girl called Yaffa, an army officer who helped
run the convalescent unit. Yaffa had black hair, green eyes and a beautiful body;
Uri and Yaffa went to her room and made love together within hours of meeting,
and he fell deeply in love with her. In the intense few pre-war days they spent
together, she said she loved him too, but felt she could not break off her engagement
to a man she had known since she was 13. Nevertheless, when Uri had to go home
for two days' prior to returning to his base, they made elaborate plans to keep
in touch and see each other whenever they could. She gave him a list of everywhere
she expected to be in the following months, and he left. It was two days before
the Six Day War broke out.
The sirens ordering all Israelis to report to their units went off throughout
the country early in the morning of Monday June 5th 1967. Uri leapt onto his Vespa
and ran every red light in the city, his hand permanently on the scooter horn.
Because he was out of training, it was quickly decided to put him in charge of
eight men in a command car rather than to let him drive an armoured vehicle. By
late afternoon, all ready and dressed in camouflage gear, he and his platoon sat
and waited for orders. Even the officers did not know which front they would be
sent to - the Golan Heights to fight the Syrians, the Sinai to engage with the
Egyptians, or the border with Jordan, whose armies were the best trained and technically
competent of all the Arabs, and comprised by far the most dangerous of Israel's
enemies in close ground combat. Like every citizen in Israel, Uri Geller and his
platoon listened to the news on transistor radios. It was to be eighteen hours
before they got their orders, a period in which much had happened, as the waiting
soldiers heard on the news. Squadrons of Israeli jets had burst out of bases which
most citizens did not even know existed, and in three hours of the early morning,
had destroyed on the ground almost every gleaming new Soviet MIG the entire combined
Arab air forces owned. Flying their sleek French aircraft eight missions back
to back, in radio silence and as low as 500 feet, the air force pilots, who ranged
from tanned teenage kibbutzniks just off their tractors to sequestered El Al 707
captains in their forties to grizzled middle-aged RAF veterans, destroyed 300
Egyptian planes (of which just 20 were in the air), 52 in Syria, 20 in Jordan
and seven in Iraq. The first part of the Israelis' master plan, total air supremacy,
was therefore theirs before supper time on the first day. Israel was saved; now
the country's military commanders wanted to make further wars unnecessary by pushing
their enemies back from their borders. That meant ground fighting, which would
take another five days.
The land battles, however, were a much harder matter than pulverising the Arabs
from the air, and none of the ground attacks the Israelis undertook was more difficult
than the defence minister General Moshe Dayan's bold attempt to take east Jerusalem
and the entire west bank of the river Jordan, which had been a source of constant
bombardment from the Jordanians for years. King Hussein of Jordan already felt
badly let down by the Egyptian leader, Nasser, over Egypt's total military collapse
within hours of the war starting, and the Sandhurst-trained monarch badly wanted
his troops to give a better account of themselves.
Geller's unit was ordered at three in the morning of Tuesday June 6th, to head
for a point between Jerusalem and the town of Ramallah to the north of the city,
to try to prevent the tough Jordanians getting supplies through to their renowned
legionnaires in Jerusalem. Although he was not to known the entire picture, he
formed part of the northern jaw of a pincer movement designed to encircle Jerusalem.
Ramallah was a cool, summer retreat favoured by rich Arabs, and where King Hussein
was building a summer palace until the war intervened. On the slow journey across
country to Ramallah, which took all of Tuesday, Uri thought continually about
Yaffa, about his mother and father and about the strong possibility he sensed
that he would be injured. He had a feeling at the same time, he says, that he
would not be killed. Somewhere on the road, where they were refuelling the vehicles
from a tanker, Uri saw Avram Stedler and became convinced that his friend was
going to die. 'Avram,' he called out. 'can I shake your hand?' Stedler was puzzled
and asked, why. 'Just shake hands with me, please,' Geller demanded. He felt sickened,
he says, by the burden of somehow knowing so much he was not supposed to.
At lunchtime on Wednesday June 7th, King Hussein made a stirring broadcast to
the men of the Royal Jordanian Army over Radio Amman. 'Kill the Jews wherever
you find them,' he said in his deep, restrained baritone. 'Kill them with your
arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.' Hussein had given up the struggle
by that night, but in the afternoon meanwhile, at a spot called Tel el Ful, near
an elevated position known to the Israelis as the French Hill, several of his
loyal units attempted to do their king's bidding when they ran into the outfit
Uri Geller served in. They ambushed it and nearly wiped it out. Sheltering in
a graveyard, as hastily called-in Israeli tanks engaged with Jordanians and Israeli
aircraft bombed the enemy with napalm, Uri took a bullet through his left hand.
Another soldier tore Uri's shirt off to see if the profuse blood was coming from
anywhere else, and, seeing it was only a flesh wound, tied his hand up. Minutes
later, Uri watched as one of his group's semi-light armoured cars came head to
head with a Jordanian Patton tank. It could have been his vehicle, had he not
caught pneumonia and been deemed out of practice after his long sick leave to
drive it. As it happened, the car contained Avram Stedler. Avram, who was the
gunner, could only get his shell to within a few metres of the tank, where it
exploded harmlessly. Uri then saw the tank fire at the car from close range and
watched helpless as Avram's vehicle tilted and shuddered. What he describes as
a strange rattle could be heard before a rumble from inside the car, followed
by smoke and flames. Uri and another soldier ran to the wreck to see if anyone
was alive. The bodywork was red hot. The driver and the captain were dead, but
Avram was still alive. As they pulled him out, an Israeli tank shell fired from
a distance away hit the Jordanian Patton and destroyed it. The shock wave knocked
Uri's rescue party off its feet.
'I saw Avram's left leg was blown off,' Uri recounts. 'He was very pale, but conscious.
As I dragged him, all he cared about was his penis. He kept saying, "Is my
thing all right, is it still there?" I opened his trousers and looked. It
was all blown away with the leg. I lied to him, and said everything was fine.
We got him to a house. He asked if there were helicopters coming.' Geller grabbed
a walkie talkie which had two bullet holes through it and called into the dead
radio to pretend to ask for a helicopter with a chovesh, a medic. 'I said a helicopter
was on its way to pick him up and he'd be fine. Later on, of course, I found out
that he'd died right there.'
There were urgent things to attend to. The fire which was still pinning the group
down was coming from a Jordanian pillbox above them, and Uri decided to lead a
party up to knock it out. As they sneaked up the hillside, a soldier jumped from
behind a rock and shot twice at them from 30 metres, but missed. Geller pulled
his gun up to waist height, and looked the soldier in the face. He noticed he
had a moustache before he fired accurately, killing him instantly. Some moments
later, in the confusion, with explosions and flying bullets all around, Geller
was hit again, this time badly, by lumps of metal flying off another stricken
enemy tank, or possibly bullets. It was never established which. He felt a blast,
sensed something entering his right arm and the left side of his forehead, and,
as he blacked out, assumed with resignation that he was dead. He remembers being
surprised at how easy it was.
He was next aware of being in a bed. The first thing he noticed was that everything
around him was clean. His arms were both bandaged, as was his head. He heard from
the radio that the war was not quite over, but was moving rapidly towards a victory.
He thought immediately of Yaffa. He saw other wounded soldiers in beds around
him, most hurt far more seriously than him, and requested a phone. He called his
mother to say he wouldn't be home for a while, but was fine. He didn't say where
he was, as he knew Margaret also had Tibor to worry about - his father was fighting
somewhere, probably in Sinai. He then phoned Yaffa, and to his delight, reached
her. He immediately went back on his resolve not to tell her where he was. She
wanted to see him as soon as she could.
Uri had been lucky, the wounds just stopped short of being serious, although his
arms were going to need plenty of attention before they worked properly again.
More than 30 years on, he still cannot fully extend his left arm. During his three
weeks in hospital, he thought a lot about the Jordanian he had shot. 'It was a
split second. You don't have it in your mind that you are killing a person. You
don't think. You just know that if you don't pull the trigger, you will be killed,
and you are saving your life. Even today, thirty years later, I still have a recurring
dream of that Jordanian soldier coming to me. He grabs my lapel and shakes me,
and he is crying. He actually talks to me in Arabic, but I understand him. He
says, "Why? Why did you do it to me? Why did you take my life away from me?"
I don't say anything and he is shaking me and I am horrified and I wake up. I
don't wake up in any great sweat, but I am disturbed, and that day I feel depressed.'
from his past naturally swam into his mind in hospital. He wanted to contact his
old friends from Cyprus, especially Ardash, who left the island for England and
had not had time to exchange addresses with Uri. One day, at his digs at number
13 Landsdowne Road, in Chingford, east London, Ardash received a letter from Uri,
writing from his hospital bed. In his reply, Ardash asked how he got the address.
'He said he thought of it whilst he was in bed in hospital. How could he have
known my address?' Ardash still wonders. 'I was living with my brother's mother
in law and father in law.'
Geller's military service wound down quite gracefully. He left hospital with his
left hand and arm in a cast, but the right healed. As part of his recuperation,
he spent the rest of the summer as an organiser at a holiday camp for children.
He kept seeing Yaffa whenever he could, but the relationship was clearly doomed.
He was discharged wounded by the paratroopers, and went to the induction camp
where he had started his service. Here, he resumed light duties, while still receiving
physiotherapy. He was quite happy. He was assigned a job tracking down army deserters.
He would normally be expected to do this travelling around on the bus, but instead
found an old motorcycle, got his father to fix it up in his tank workshop, and
set himself up as a sort of DIY military policeman. 'I had this helmet and I felt
superior on my motorbike. The camp was attached to a hospital, and there were
beautiful nurses there. Every morning whenever I wanted to pick up a girl or find
some new girlfriend, I would ride the bike between the nurses' bungalows. I would
look very impressive, just like my father.'
As for being exactly like his father in terms of staying on in the forces, if
only in some minor, NCO capacity, the injured left arm finally put paid to that
- and in very socially acceptable way. Flunking the army was one thing, but being
a wounded veteran was another. Geller had cause to be rather pleased with the
way things had worked out. 'You know who really saved my life,' he reflects, 'was
the officer who kicked me awake and said, "Uri, get up," when I fell
asleep. If I had not been booted out of officer school, I would have either I
would have died in one of the wars or I would now be some general in the Israeli
army with an army house and a little Ford. I met the guy who woke me up in New
York once, in the lobby of the Lexington Hotel. I was already on my way to stardom
and he was working as an El Al security guard. I walked up and said, "Weren't
you the guy that kicked me and woke me up?" He said, "Yes, Uri, of course."
So I shook his hand and said thanks for starting my career off.'
Hanging around for official discharge on his very last day as a full-time soldier
of the Israel Defence Forces, Uri met a younger man, Ygal Goren, whom he had never
come across before. In the odd way that these things sometimes work out, the two
young men got on, and Goren is today one of the few army pals whom Geller still
looks up when he is in Israel. There was a strong link between the two; it turned
out that Goren had also been fighting near the French Hill the day the Israelis
took that terrible pounding at the Jordanians' hand, and had been wounded close
to the same spot. Yet oddly enough, they did not discover this until several years
later, when they were talking, as they always do, about their army days, a period
Goren has noticed that Uri seems to find especially important to him. Goren had
gone on from the army to the Hebrew University to study political science, become
a journalist, rose to be the diplomatic correspondent of Israel Television, and
now has private TV documentary production company in Tel Aviv.
Not knowing at the time that they had nearly died in the same Arab village, and
knowing nothing either of the strange powers Geller believed he possessed, what
stuck in Goren's mind after meeting Uri Geller in 1967 was an odd thing his new
friend had told him within minutes of meeting 'To tell you the truth,' Ygal Goren
says, 'I didn't know what this 21-year-old was talking about. I was laughing at
him, just to myself. I had asked him, as you would anyone on their last day in
the army, what he was going to do now. And he just said to me, straight out, "Ygal,
I am going to be rich and famous."'