The Gaza Strip! IDF Girls Gone Wild! These are some of the nicknames for the recent scandal sparked by Facebook photos and video of semi-nude female IDF soldiers, striking poses and dancing on IDF bases and inside IDF facilities, in some cases carrying weapons and sporting (parts of) IDF uniforms. These stories seemed to be everywhere — including at the Forward.
Don’t blame the media — sex sells. Combine nearly-naked young women, guns, and the almost clichéd fetishization of the IDF female soldier, and you’ve got a story guaranteed to go global. And don’t be too tough on the women involved, who no doubt never intended to be seen as representing (or demeaning) the IDF. People all over the world, especially teenagers, regularly do really stupid things, increasingly on camera. Welcome to the age of phone cameras and social media.
Fortunately, this flashy, tawdry story isn’t the only recent news about women in the IDF. There’s another story that the media would do well to highlight. This is the one in which young Israeli women are speaking out, candidly and courageously, about their experience enforcing the occupation as part of an Israeli initiative called Breaking the Silence (BTS). Last month BTS launched a campaign focused on testimonies from female soldiers. These testimonies present a very different face and voice of Israel’s female combatants. Watch and listen to people like Dana, Inbar, Tal, Gil and Yael, explain why they are speaking out. Then take the time to listen to some of their stories to understand better the experiences that drove them to do so.
I will never forget the day I joined the Israel Defense Forces. It was five years ago, and I remember 18-year-old me, kissing you and Dad goodbye and boarding the bus that would take me to a month-long boot camp. You hugged me close and shed a tear, and I remember thinking you were weird. I could not understand why you were getting all emotional when you’d probably see me that very same weekend, or in the worst case, the weekend after that. I had no idea why you made such a big deal out of me starting my mandatory IDF service, all the more due to the nature of my service, which had me sleeping at home almost every day.
Now, Mother, I understand.
My little brother is now an IDF warrior, and I finally see what hid behind that tear. I saw it the day he went on that bus to boot camp to start his mandatory service — the helplessness that you and all the other mothers who kissed their children goodbye felt. Not because you won’t see your baby boy for two weeks, but because that day you were forced to let go of your natural grip of your child.
This week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on American women serving in combat. The news broke quickly and widely, and immediately took me back to 1995, when civilian pilot and aeronautical engineer Alice Miller petitioned the High Court of Justice to take the Israeli Air Force pilot training exams after being rejected on grounds of gender. Eventually she won — and became the first female pilot in the IDF. Up until then, women’s roles in the IDF were entirely gender-oriented; they were secretaries, administrators and office managers. By winning in court, Alice Miller opened the gate for women in the IDF to move beyond their desks and serve in combat.
In 2000, still more than a decade before Panetta’s groundbreaking announcement, the Equality Amendment to Israel’s Military Service law stated that the right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men. And so in 2001, Roni Zuckerman became the first female jet fighter pilot. In November 2007, the Air Force appointed its first woman deputy squadron commander. In 2011, Orna Barbivai became the first female Major-General in the IDF.
These stories bring words like “bravery” and “heroism” to mind, and for good reason: Women have worked extraordinarily hard, fighting and struggling to earn their achievements. Still, it took five decades (the IDF was founded in 1948) for women to have the same service opportunities as men — four decades in which women were considered incapable of performing in certain roles simply because of their gender. Even decades after the “women liberation” revolution, it is still news when women receive an equal chance in certain fields.
With the advent of the conflict in Gaza, known by the hashtags #gazaunderattack or #pillarofdefense, it’s a surreal moment to be a citizen of this earth.
For perhaps the first time on this scale, a war is being waged both in real life and on Twitter simultaneously.
As rockets and bombs fall, as children lie wounded or dead, and as people rush into bomb shelters, the IDF Spokesman account and the military wing of Hamas have been duking it out on the interwebs, even garnering the IDF a suspension from Twitter for issuing “threats of violence.”
Buzzfeed writes that the IDF is winning the Twitter war, but in my mind, the callousness of these tweets and actions on both sides precludes any winners.
Discussion of the exclusion of women from public spaces in Israel — its manifestations, its dangers and its possible remedies — has increased in recent weeks, with a different variation on the theme catching the media spotlight every few days.
Recently there has been increased focus on the issue of violence against women. First, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (who also heads the Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women) exclaimed during a heated cabinet debate, “Where there’s an exclusion of women, violence against women eventually grows.”
Walla published a related opinion piece by attorney Anat Tahon-Ashkenazi titled, “The Exclusion of Women From Security Issues Influences Their Security.” While much of the concern recently has been about gender segregation and the disappearance of women from advertising and signage, as well as on the paucity of women journalists (especially on television) presenting and analyzing news, she zeroed in on political leadership and decision-making.
Listen to a woman soldier sing in a military ceremony or face a firing squad? Tough decision, eh?
One Orthodox rabbi has declared that male religious soldiers who are true to their faith should choose the latter.
In a radio interview quoted in Ha’aretz, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh, said that if the army continues to stand firm on insisting that all soldiers attend official events with women singing, the time will soon approach “in which rabbis will have to say to soldiers ‘you have to leave those events even if there’s a firing squad outside, and you’ll be shot to death.’ ”
Simchat Torah wasn’t much of a celebration this year for a group of angry female Israeli soldiers who were furious over being segregated far from their male counterparts, and completely out of their sight line when it came time for the traditional round of dancing with the Torah that ends the holiday, known as Hakafot Shniyot.
According to Haaretz, the incident occurred at the IDF’s main Simchat Torah celebration where there were approximately 400 male soldiers and 100 female soldiers in attendance. The men were dancing, and the women were dancing at the side of the room and completely separated by a long table, but within sight.
My daughter was the first person to tell me that an agreement had been reached for Gilad Shalit’s release. Her voice was joyous in a “shouting-from-the-rooftop” kind of way. Shalit’s captivity has been very much on my teenage daughter’s mind since she saw the halting video of Gilad as a prisoner of war two years ago. After her first viewing, she marched into our bedroom with her laptop and said, “You need to watch this.”
On that video, Gilad was painfully young, painfully sad and painfully thin. He was taken into captivity in June of 2006 when he was just 19 years old — less than two years older than my daughter is today.
“I’ll translate for you,” my girl said quietly.
My mother recently celebrated her 89th birthday in a most unusual place for a party — the Tayasir Checkpoint, situated in the northeastern West Bank, halfway between Nablus and Jenin.
Barren hills, not yet softened by the green grasses that grow in winters with good rainfall, crowd around an intersection of two roads. One road is open to cars with Israeli license plates, like the one my mother traveled in with her friend Yudit, as well as those of the settlers who live in nearby Jewish outposts. The other road, which heads toward Nablus or Jenin, is open only to Palestinian vehicles. On the Palestinian section of the road is what I refer to here as a “checkpoint,” but the Hebrew term, “machsom,” or barrier, describes it more accurately.
I began my phone call to my friend Karen with the same question that has launched all of our recent conversations: “How’s Noah?”
And so I get the latest report on her 18-year-old son who recently entered training for a combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces. Noah is the first child of a close friend to enlist in the IDF.
Her answer is a unique mixture of happiness and apprehension. “Well, he is so happy. He loves it. He’s exhausted. His last text message to me said, ‘I’m bruised, I’m sore, I’m exhausted, I’ve never been happier.’ He came home last Shabbat with a prize for his skills in shooting a really big gun. Shooting!?? I think of him as my son, not a soldier. I’m thrilled for him, but I’m scared, too. I worry how much he is going to have to give to this.”