The Israel Defense Forces and its magazine "Bamahane" have come a long way in their attitude toward homosexuals since 2001, when the army's chief education officer suspended publication of the journal for two weeks after it published an article in which a colonel described his coming-out.
This year, in honor of Gay Pride Week, "Bamahane" interviewed five soldiers who were admirably forthright in talking about being openly gay in an environment that glorifies masculine stereotypes.
Alon, a combat medic in an artillery battalion, described a date: "Once I went out with a paratrooper who was in the closet within his unit ... I held his hand while we were on the street, to be romantic, and suddenly he nearly heaved me across the sidewalk. I was in shock until I realized he had seen someone from his unit. At that moment, I realized how badly I'd screwed up.
"The people in the army become your best friends," Alon continued. "And then you have a boyfriend and you meet someone and you're totally in love - wouldn't you want to share that with someone, to talk about it? I wouldn't be able to live with that kind of situation."
Yoav Zaritsky, a combat soldier in the Givati Brigade, told the magazine of his apprehensions about coming out while serving. "The fear is about social isolation, that people will view you as different, as frightening or alien," he said. "When you sleep in a tent with 12 other people, there's not much room for playing games; it's either together or nothing. But I decided I no longer had a choice, that despite the difficulties, maybe I had a duty to say it openly."
Last year, as part of its coverage of Family Day, "Bamahane" interviewed Lt. Col. Michal Harpaz of the IDF Education and Youth Corps, who spoke about her home life with her female partner and their two children.
Two years ago, the magazine ran a story in which Maj. Yehoshua Gortler, then an aide to the chief military prosecutor, talked about coming out as a gay man while also being a religious Jew. The chief military rabbi at the time, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzky, was so angry about the publication that he sent letters to the Personnel Directorate and the education corps stating that the topic was inappropriate for a publication that reflects life in the IDF.
A decade ago, Brig. Gen. Elazar Stern closed down "Bamahane" for two weeks after it put Col. (res. ) Eli Sharon, holding a rainbow flag, on the cover. Stern later attributed his decision to an overabundance of civilian-oriented content in the magazine.
"'Bamahane' is the magazine of every IDF soldier," said its editor, Maj. Yoni Schoenfeld. "And just as there are soldiers of every kind and of every ethnicity, there are also thousands of soldiers who are part of the lesbian and homosexual community. For that reason, it's appropriate for an article about them to appear in the magazine occasionally, even if there are those in the army who don't like it. After all, it's our army, and this is what's special about us: We're an army of the people."
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