Israeli Army to Put Up 'Decorative and Modern' Barriers to Separate Men and Women

According to army tender, barrier must be at least two meters high and opaque enough so that the male and female soldiers cannot see each other

Israeli soldiers.
David Bachar

The Defense Ministry is soliciting bids for the construction of barriers to separate men’s and women’s living quarters on military bases, calling for the barriers to be “aesthetic and modern” while “dividing the base in a decorative fashion without being a visual disaster.”

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According to the Israel Defense Forces, the barrier separating men from women must be at least two meters (6.6 feet) high and opaque enough so that the male and female soldiers cannot see each other, “but not completely opaque.”

The IDF wants the barriers to be easily dismantled so they can be moved from base to base. Potential suppliers must submit their samples of proposed barriers by Tuesday.

“Separation between the men’s and women’s quarters in the IDF is not new and has always existed. It provides for respectful and appropriate service,” the IDF Spokesman's Office said.

“From time to time, during the process of renovating or gating-off areas on IDF bases, equipment is ordered via the relevant procurement requests. At issue is equipment that will provide for more orderly, aesthetic and modern separation. There’s nothing in this procurement request that’s new.”

The Joint Service Order for men and women details the regulations for separating men’s and women’s quarters in the IDF. It states that tent housing must be located in separate compounds separated by an opaque barrier two meters high. The order makes no reference to separation barriers when the soldiers are housed in barracks or other structures.

In December the IDF added the following sentence to the Joint Service Order: “The contribution of everyone, men and women, is crucial to the army’s success in fulfilling its missions.” The IDF explained the addition as stressing the importance of women’s service in combat roles in mixed battalions, including the Artillery Corps, the Armored Corps and soon also on the navy’s Sa’ar-6 battleships.

“We want to prevent agendas from all sides from influencing the way the order is enforced by commanders,” the IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said at the time.

The IDF also added the following sentence to the order: “The order must be implemented as written, without any stringencies or relaxations. If a question arises about implementing the order, it should be referred to the joint service committee.”

According to Manelis, “The order creates a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ and leaves no room for interpretation by the commander in the field.”

The IDF has a long history of friction surrounding joint service and efforts to integrate both women and ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, men into the army. On International Women’s Day last month, the IDF removed a video it had posted that encouraged equal service between men and women. It had been posted on the air force’s Facebook page and reaped a substantial number of views.

The website Srugim, which largely serves the religious-Zionist community, said the clip was removed after Srugim asked the army to remove the “defiant video.” The army said the video had never been approved for posting.

This past January the army banned women from a mess hall during the intake of a Nahal Haredi battalion. The IDF said the step was taken due to the IDF’s commitment to the Haredi conscripts that there would be no women in the area.

This happened even though the battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Uri Levi, wrote a letter reported on by the Israel Television News Company, formerly Channel 2. According to Levi, as far as he could tell, “the vast majority of [the recruits] are not Haredim. Only a small number of them come from a Haredi home, and some do not observe the commandments at all.”

Around a month ago, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot addressed the dispute over joint service after Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu blamed Eisenkot for a drop in motivation to do combat service. Eliyahu even called for Eisenkot’s dismissal.

“Some of the comments stem from lack of knowledge,” Eisenkot told Haaretz at the time. “People make foolish comments and I’m sure that afterward they regret them. The integration of women and men in the IDF has accompanied the IDF since its inception. Our approach is businesslike, with the goal of having a strong IDF. In no instance have we forced a religious soldier doing compulsory service to serve in a mixed combat unit.”