Two Female Draftees Petition Israel's High Court to Let Them Serve in Tank Unit

Petition claims that depriving women the chance to serve in front-line combat positions violates right to equality

Male and female soldiers on the Gaza border.
Ilan Assayag

Two women who are to be drafted into the Israeli army in March filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Tuesday seeking an order allowing them to be considered for placement in a combat position as members of a tank crew.

In April, Israel army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi decided to scrap a two-year pilot program that allowed women to serve in tanks, despite the fact that the program was considered a success.

In their petition, the two women seek to have the military explain why women are barred from serving in frontline combat positions as tank drivers, gunner loader-radio operators and commanders.

One of the petitioners, Or Abramson, a 19-year-old from the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron, had been told that her request could not be granted but she could be placed in a combat position with the Home Front Command, which deals with protecting the civilian sector.

The other petitioner, Ma'ayan Halberstadt of Jerusalem, had her request to serve in the tank corps declined, but she was told she could serve in a combat position in the Artillery Corps.

Their petition claims that the army's refusal to consider their placemen in frontline tank positions is a substantial violation of equal rights. It calls for a change to regulations that would open up frontline combat positions to female draftees.

In explaining its decision to halt the pilot program permitting women to serve in tanks, the army said that it was not appropriate to continue the program "at this at this time and in the face of the operational need for tanks in missions defending the borders."

Haaretz has reported that legal experts who have had access to the army's reasoning said it would not stand up to the scrutiny of the High Court of Justice because the evidence indicates that women are in fact capable of serving in tank crews.

The head of the Armored Corps, Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson, said there was no question that a female tank crew headed by a woman commander would be capable of carrying out operations to guard the country's borders. Other senior officers raised the prospect that Chief of Staff Kochavi's decision might have been the result of political pressure.

In the course of the pilot program, right-wing individuals and prominent religious Zionist rabbis launched a concerted campaign designed to discredit female combat soldiers as well as Kochavi's predecessor as chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, who initiated the pilot program.

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 court stated. 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.