Israeli Girls, Don’t Go Into the Army

Patriotism doesn’t mean devoting yourself to a system that tells you to charge, only for a group of men to use you and never pay the price for it

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FILE PHOTO: Female Israel Defense Forces' soldiers
Female Israel Defense Forces' soldiers.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In a recent video, Chotam—a religious Zionist organization dedicated to “re-instilling Judaism and its values into the fabric of Israeli society”—warns religious girls against joining the Israeli military. You won’t be able to avoid touching men in the military, they caution with reference to the concept of Negiah in Jewish law. You’ll find yourselves forced into intimate situations, your supervisors will be unfeeling, you’ll lose control over your body, and lawlessness will become a constant threat.   

I probably don’t share any of Chotam’s values, not least their nationalism—the video ends with the statement that “our military is the holiest of holies.” And I certainly don’t support the organization’s racist use of a Mizrahi soldier singing a song by Eyal Golan—Israel’s most famous Mizrahi singer who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct—to embody the threats facing a religious girl. But I do agree with Chotam about one thing: Girls, don’t join the military!

Do not enlist, because you’ll have nowhere to run after a week-long military exercise where an officer tried to kiss you. Since he’s not your supervisor, there’s no procedure in place for reporting him. You also won’t have any way to escape the embarrassment of having a colonel close his office door, pull his chair next to yours, and examine you so closely that you can’t think of anything to do other than giggle.

But supervisors are not the only issue. Do not enlist, because you may find yourself having to do an eight-hour guard duty on a godforsaken military base, which promptly begins with the other soldier on duty talking cheerfully about his dick. He’ll refuse to stop even when you insist. These anecdotes, I assure you, are all based on true stories. And what are you going to do about it? Get out of there and risk a disciplinary hearing? Be denied leave as a result? Nothing actually happened, they’ll say, they were only words. 

There are good reasons to ask whether anyone, including boys, should join the military, but I will save that for another time, since my focus is on the girls: Do not enlist. It’s true that no matter where life takes you, you will end up being harassed; even in the workforce, there’s a good chance that your supervisor will be a man, and he may harass or even assault you. But the difference is that the military is a system that controls all aspects of your life, where you cannot quit or refuse to answer offensive phone calls from your commanding officer. There is no way to distance yourself from the situation except by declaring yourself insane and obtaining an exemption from service based on your poor mental health. It doesn’t matter how strong you are. Just ask May Fatal .

“You can always report harassment,” they’ll say. Is that so? The data on sexual harassment and assault in the military suggest otherwise. In 2014, only 37 military personnel were indicted for sexual misconduct, despite 667 cases being reviewed by the various military support centers.

It’s true that, after contacting a support center, not all victims choose to report their case to the military’s criminal investigation division. But how could victims be blamed for this in a system where, for example, the only penalty that officer Liran Hajbi suffered for harassing soldier May Fatal was a demotion of one rank and a 5000-shekel fine? Not to mention Ofek Buchris, who admitted as part of a plea bargain to sexually assaulting and harassing two women (one a soldier, the other an officer)—and even then two major generals showed up to praise him at his sentencing.

It’s true, female soldiers are not the only ones changed by the military, as the soldier’s friend in Chotam’s video tells her: “You’ve changed, you know; it’s like you’ve gotten rougher.” The military changes men, too. A completely average man that enters the military at age eighteen and stays there until he is thirty is at risk of becoming blinded by power. In 2016, forty of the reports of sexual misconduct were filed against officers ranked major or higher.

It doesn’t matter how significant you may find your service to be, or how many nice guys may serve with you (you may even find a boyfriend), or the good friends you may make, or how important these friendships may still be to you ten years down the road—these things are not worth the countless experiences you will need to convince yourself didn’t happen, or that they weren’t that bad, or that you didn’t really mind them. Take it from someone who knows.

Forget it, you don’t need to sacrifice your body for a system that won’t do the bare minimum to protect it. It’s said that a good commander gives the order “follow me!”, whereas a bad one orders their soldiers to “charge!”. Patriotism doesn’t mean devoting yourself to a system that tells you to charge, only for a group of men to use you and never pay the price for it. We are not anyone’s for the taking, our bodies are ours. Do not enlist.  

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