Four Women Petition Israel's Top Court to Allow Them Into Elite Army Units

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Female soldiers training to become tank commanders in a pilot IDF program, June 28, 2018.
Female soldiers training to become tank commanders in a pilot IDF program, June 28, 2018. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Four women, set to be recruited to the Israel Defense Forces, petitioned Wednesday the High Court of Justice to allow them to try out for elite units, which are currently only open for men.

The petition, filed against the military and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, demands that women be permitted to join any IDF unit, including the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the General Staff's elite special operations force, the Navy's Shayetet 12 unit, and undercover counter-terrorism unit Duvdevan as long as they meet requirements for these positions.

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Petitioners Mika Kleiger, Mor Lidani, Gali Nashri, and Amar Sariya are requesting the court to rule that closing elite units to women is “wrong, against the law and contradicts the principle of equality of opportunity.”

Attorneys Yanur Bertandel, Amihai Weinberger, Adi Klein and Revital Appelbaum, who represent the four women, wrote in the petition that “despite the fact that the army is committed to equality and non-discrimination based on gender, it refuses to recruit women as fighters in the IDF’s elite units, without addressing whether gender justifies preventing these women from having the option of vying for these roles.”

The four women claim that the roles offered to women by the army are “gilded cages, allowing the army to boast of integrating women in combat roles although they are nothing but a misleading fig leaf, an unbreakable glass ceiling that restricts women” from assuming other roles.

In January 2020, the IDF extended a pilot program allowing women into the Armored Corps, in response to a similar petition. The army has a declared policy to open all positions to women as long as they meet the physical and professional requirements, but in practice they face mutiple barriers. There are religious objections to women serving alongside men; but some in the upper echelons of the military also argue that there needs to be general proof of women’s physical ability to serve before even considering individual cases.

Two female soldiers in an observation post on the Gaza border, February 4, 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The initial integration of women into the army was ordered by the Supreme Court in 1995 in the case of Alice Miller, who sought to apply for the Israel Air Force’s pilots’ course. The court ruling paved the way for women serving in air crews, followed later by a wider range of positions, including some combat roles.

The justices in that case noted that assuring equality costs money to adapt facilities to the needs of women, but that does not justify denying them the opportunity. The military service law was amended in the wake of that decision to permit women to serve in any position in which men serve except when required by the nature of the position.

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