It was exactly 20 years ago, the winter of 1996-97. It was the beginning of the female revolution in the Israel Defense Forces. The first group of women were inducted into the Border Police, then the gates were opened to women in the air force after the High Court petition by Alice Miller.
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I was in the middle of a noncommissioned officer’s course, and representatives of the various branches of the service were coming to the Mahane 80 training base to persuade the new female recruits to join their ranks. I noticed that the recruiters were a bit confused and still didn’t believe the task they had been assigned.
Now it’s the winter of 2016. Women are combat soldiers in mixed infantry companies, fighter pilots, commanders in the naval officers’ course, company commanders in the Artillery Corps – and that’s just a partial list. And all of a sudden a few former senior IDF commanders, including Maj. Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal and an Israeli medal of heroism winner, Brig. Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, want to set us back 20 years. They’re worried about our wombs and the maternal feelings that might be damaged on the battlefield.
Ron-Tal, chairman of the Israel Electric Corporation, went even further and accused the left of trying to weaken the army by integrating women into the tank corps. He even read a study about it. Ron-Tal later apologized, but not before revealing what’s probably his instinctive interpretation – women mean weakness.
I’d like to read the study Ron-Tal mentioned. I’d like to send him research abroad on women’s major contribution in various armies and to these militaries’ decision-making processes. Let him begin with UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges the increase of women’s participation in all UN peace and security efforts. Of course, Kahalani has my gratitude too for worrying about us, the mothers; he considers raising children the female sex’s main function.
The obvious bears mentioning: Not every woman is suitable for combat service. Neither is every man. Not every woman wants to devote her life only to raising children, or even, hard as it is to believe, to becoming a mother.
Still, the IDF, which still functions as the people’s army and follows the law regarding military service, must act based on egalitarian principles when it comes to men and women. This is all the more true on the assumption that such service benefits the army.
Recent years have seen a positive trend regarding women in the military. Not only have more jobs opened to women soldiers, important work has been done against sexual harassment and for the promotion of women. In civilian life groups have been established for integrating and advancing women in the security dialogue such as the Forum Dvorah, of which I’m a member.
But still there are forces that threaten sabotage; for example, the man tapped to be the IDF’s next chief rabbi, Eyal Krim, who has denounced women’s service in the army and approved the rape of enemy women during wartime. And there’s not a single woman major general.
Despite women’s enormous progress in the IDF, some people still want to send us back decades. They won’t be able to. They belong to the old IDF, the one that hasn’t yet realized that alongside the “splendid young men” – as in that sad song from 1948 – stand strong women whom no one can stop. Not even the winner of a medal for heroism.