An IDF lookout watching the separation fence - Ariel Schalit
An IDF lookout watching the separation fence. Photo by Ariel Schalit
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Contrary to regulations, the Israel Defense Forces called up dozens of women on short notice to do reserve duty as lookouts for an extended period, to relieve some of the pressure on regular army lookouts. The women, all of whom had served as lookouts during their army service, were called up just before and after Rosh Hashana to serve for 24 days in the West Bank and near the Gaza border.

"A few weeks ago, I was called by the unit's liaison office and asked if I'd be willing to do reserve duty during wartime. I said, 'Of course,' and that was the end of the conversation," said T., who had served as a lookout in the Jerusalem area.

Two days before Rosh Hashana, T. received another call and was ordered to report in five days to the base of the battalion in which she had served as a conscript.

"Some of my friends got the call only on Sunday, after Rosh Hashana, and were ordered to report the following day," T. said.

Under the Reserve Duty Law, the army is required to give reservists at least 60 days' notice for lengthy periods of reserve service; only in times of emergency, and by special order of the defense minister, can reservists be mobilized on shorter notice.

Although the women thought at first that their call-ups were linked to the tension surrounding the Palestinian Authority's efforts to have a state declared at the United Nations, "it turned out that we were being called in as 'reinforcements,'" another one of the women said. "It wasn't an Order 8 [emergency call-up order]."

Officers on the base said the women had been called up to relieve the regular army lookouts so they could get weekend leave and to reduce the stress they were under.

"One of them told us that a new situation prevails, and that if the lookouts don't go home every second weekend, their parents will start complaining and making problems," the woman said.

Three months ago, after a widely publicized incident in which four lookouts serving on the northern border turned off their observation instruments and went to sleep, a committee headed by Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh looked into the lookouts' service conditions. The panel determined that the lookouts were subject to unbearable pressure, and made a number of recommendations to ease their burden.

Because of a shortage of trained lookouts, and the increasing need for experienced lookouts in all locations, difficulties emerged in implementing the recommendations. Since an inspection of how the recommendations are being executed is scheduled for next month, it was decided to start mobilizing reservists to reduce the stress.

A statement from the IDF Spokesman's Office said the array of lookouts was augmented "due to the important role they played in the preparations for the events of September and in accordance with the situation assessment.

"These reservists were mobilized with an exceptional call-up order that got all the necessary approvals, in order to maintain the proper operation of the system."