Almost all positions in the IDF
are open to women. Many of the combat positions require women to serve for three years just as men do, because of the length of their training. The first female pilots graduated in 2001 and several hundred women today serve in combat positions. There are some positions, such as combat intelligence, that are primarily staffed by women.
Many of the combat instructors are also women. Some of the women who serve say they feel they have benefited from the experience.
“I liked my job in the army very much and I made some very good friends,” Eden Ben Yosef, 21, who recently finished her service as a social worker for a male combat unit told The Media Line. “The army needs a lot of manpower and as long as there is a draft for boys, there should be a draft for girls.”
The army gives exemptions to religious women who would not be comfortable serving on a base with men.
“Sometimes I feel like I could be contributing more,” said S., an observant Jew who was granted exemption from service and decided to volunteer to national service. “But then I think that in the army there are a lot of boring jobs as well. I did feel some pressure to go into the army, as that’s what most of my friends are doing. I think there are some people who look down on you if you don’t do the army.”
In fact, many young women who are not observant often ask for, and receive, an exemption. The army does not have any procedure for investigating whether those receiving the exemption are actually observant Jews.
S’s sister R. made a different choice. She joined the army six months ago, and currently works in Air Force intelligence.
“I think it’s important and it’s our way of giving back to our country,” she told The Media Line. “It’s also a way of showing that women are capable of doing anything they want to do.”
She said she’s learned how to deal with different kinds of people, and been exposed to people she would never have met in her sheltered, upper-middle-class Jerusalem neighborhood.
Being an observant Jew in the army has been a challenge, she says. Although it is permissible to violate the Sabbath to preserve life, she says she is still not comfortable with some of the actions she has to perform on the Sabbath.
The army rarely pursues cases against women who prefer not to serve, whether for religious reasons or reasons of conscience.
Luitenant Colonel Limor Shabtai, a senior advisor on women in the IDF, believes the army must do more to crack down on women who lie to get a religious exemption.
“We must have a widespread education program to get girls to serve,” she said. “We have opened up so many units for girls – they can be fighters, navigators and pilots – and we must encourage them to join these jobs.”
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line