Living 'Fauda': Women from Israeli undercover units share their 'crazy' experiences

From grueling training to missions deep within enemy territory, women who served in Border Police's undercover Yamas unit tell us about their dramatic operations and moments terrorists realize they've been caught by a woman

Shosh Mula|
One night, during the height of the Second Intifada, Israel's Border Police's undercover unit, members of which known as "Mistarvim," surrounded the home of a wanted man in the village of Yetta, just south of Hebron in the West Bank. As the hours go by, the forces don’t enter the house.
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  • The site was booby-trapped and the Shin Bet’s orders were clear: Bring him in for interrogation. They repeatedly call on him to come out of the building. But he was staying put. After hours on tenterhooks, a door at the side of the house opens, and the wanted man bursts out and starts running towards the Border Police personnel, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” declaring his intent on killing them.
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    Galli, Shir and Sunny
    Galli, Shir and Sunny
    Galli, Shir and Sunny
    (Photo: Iliya Milinkov)
    Suddenly, a commanding voice could be heard, shouting in Arabic: “Stop. Don’t move!” The stunned man stood still. Where was this woman’s voice coming from?
    Sunny, who was serving undercover in the Border Police, says: “He charged towards me and my partner, screaming. I could have just shot him in the neck, but the Shin Bet wanted him alive. So, I stepped forward and yelled. He froze because he’d heard a girl’s voice. He was astounded. He didn’t understand where the voice was coming from. In that one moment of doubt, the others jumped on him and arrested him.”
    Sunny is now a flight attendant. You might have bumped into her on your latest flight overseas. Nothing in her appearance, or that of her friends Shir and Gali, could give away what they’ve done for the country.
    Now, they’re telling us what they went through as female undercover fighters in the Border Police. Everything from the exhausting training and those in the unit who didn’t believe that a woman could do it, through to the hair-raising and life-threatening operations, as well as the ongoing emotional toll.
    And one picture is engrained in the memory of all three – the look in the eyes of the apprehended terrorist. “I’ve seen that look many times – the look in the eyes of a terrorist I’ve arrested, just at the moment he realizes I’m a woman,” says Sunny.
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    ימ"ס מג"ב בפעולה
    ימ"ס מג"ב בפעולה
    Border Police special ops unit
    (Photo: Shaul Golan)
    Describe the look in the eyes of the terrorist when he realizes he’s been captured by a woman.
    “It’s like seeing a ghost for them.”
    In the early 2000s, during the Al Aqsa Intifada, it was decided to incorporate women into the undercover Yamas unit in Israel’s Border Police. Suicide bombers were blowing themselves up in busy town centers. Border Police command came up with the idea of including women into undercover operations so as to provide better cover.
    A couple walking around a village following a suspect gathering intelligence look far more innocuous than two men. Male fighters had dressed up as women for operations anyway, so why not recruit real women?
    But getting it done was an uphill struggle. Despite women serving successfully in combat positions in the Border Police for many years, not everyone supported their serving in the elite unit. And they weren’t afraid to speak out. The selection process was arduous. Out of the 20 women who made it to the gibbush (trial period for IDF elite units), only two or three were selected.
    Gali recalls: “It’s a four-day gibbush with the boys. You’re totally exhausted by the second day. These 48 hours test your physical and mental capabilities and how you function under immense pressure. You can’t show any weakness in front of the boys, or ask them for help. You can’t break down and cry. You have to show that you’re mentally resilient. So yes, I did cry, but only alone in my room.
    “The officers hadn’t commanded girls before. You realize that no matter how hard it is for you, you can’t say anything because you’re a girl, and you wanted to be in Yamas. You can be on a three-day operation and when you get back to base, the boys will go to sleep and they’ll tell you to go train.
    "I had bleeding open wounds because the equipment isn’t adapted for women. The belt at the top of my pants was always drenched in blood, but I couldn’t tell them I was in pain. They’d just tell me to go to the medic and then go home.”
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    גלי
    גלי
    Gali
    (Photo: Iliya Milinkov)
    So, why would you want to serve in the unit anyway?
    Gali says: “I joined the Border Police, following in the footsteps of my late brother who fell fighting in the Yamam (Israel's national counter-terrorism unit). Although I didn’t have the physical strength of a combat fighter, in Mistarvim, mental strength is more important. I also have a photographic memory, which is very important. I was admitted to the unit because, at the end of the day, the mind wins where legs can’t.”
    Sunny: “For me, it was clear that I’d be in the Mistarvim, even before I knew it was an option. I dreamt of it before I was even drafted. And it really happened, without having some uncle quietly telling me that there was no such a thing without connections.”
    Shir: “I found my way to the unit because of my father who’d served in the police. And before you ask, no-one cut me any slack. Quite the opposite.”
    The tests and exercises in the unit weren’t just physical. Shir: “They test whether you can embed yourself in the field, your mental strength and how good you are at keeping a secret. You have to be physically fit and strong, be a sharp-shooter, dress up and disguise yourself, and carry out special operations. We were given a lot of tasks and exercises.“
    What tasks and exercises were you given during the selection process?
    “I was told to go to a neighborhood bakery and memorize the details of the kitchen, warehouse and all the rooms.”
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    שיר
    שיר
    Shir
    (Photo: Iliya Milinkov)
    So, what did you do?
    “I went to the baker and told him that I’d always dreamt of being a baker, but that I’d never seen a bakery from the inside, and I’d really appreciate it if he could show me his bakery. He looked at me with a 'Who is this idiot?' look, but he did show me around.
    "I left the bakery thinking the test was over. It wasn’t. 'Policemen' stopped me outside and said that someone had 'reported' me as suspicious. They asked me for ID. As I’m not allowed to show my police ID, I calmly showed them my Teudat Zehut (Israeli ID card). They asked me what I was doing there. I said I was just wandering around. They went away and the test was over.“
    Shir: “In my test, they told me to go into a grocery store and carry out surveillance on someone. So, carrying a school backpack, I went into the shop and thought everything was okay. Then my instructor came in and started shouting 'Thief! Thief!' Open her bag. I saw her stealing! “
    What did you do?
    “I didn’t do well in that test. I froze. I couldn’t identify myself as a policewoman.”
    What were you supposed to do?
    “I didn’t know whether to confront him or not, so I ran away.”
    The Mistarvim course lasts several months. Participants, who will have completed the Border Police’s 05 Basic Training for combat infantry are trained in counter-terrorism, fighting in built-up areas, as well as undercover training. After the course, they’ll be placed in a Border Police Yamas unit. Sunny, Shir and Gali were among the few who managed to complete the grueling course.
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     לוחמות מג"ב ירושלים העיר העתיקה
     לוחמות מג"ב ירושלים העיר העתיקה
    Border Police soldiers in Jerusalem
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
    Okay, so you finished the course. What do women do in Mistarvim?
    Gali: “It’s twofold: Firstly, there’s the specific activity of collecting intelligence - generally before operations. This includes surveillance of suspects, collecting information about them and their daily routines.”
    Shir: “Secondly, there’s the larger operations activity of arresting suspects, or catching terrorists preventing suicide attacks etc.”
    What advantage does a woman have over a man in the Mistarvim?
    Sunny: “A woman raises less suspicion. In their culture, a woman doesn’t constitute a threat.”
    Gali: “A man can’t embed himself in a crowd of women, in a clothes shop, public restrooms etc. I look younger than my age, so I’ve disguised myself as a teenage girl, a student and sometimes as an adult woman. In Arab culture, a man isn’t supposed to look a woman directly in the eyes. You’ll go into a shop, and the man won’t actually look at you. That’s an advantage.”
    Shir: “These are things that only a woman can do without raising suspicion.”
    On the other hand, a woman can’t go into a mosque and she’ll be conspicuous in any disturbance of the peace situation.
    Sunny: “We can’t go into mosques, but there are lots of ways to be on the ground in a disturbance of the peace situation - shopping in a nearby store, panhandling etc.“
    Shir: “Basically, that’s correct, but we also have ways of looking like men. The idea is to embed ourselves on the ground. What did the men do before we joined the units? They dressed up as women.”
    Gali: “Let me give you an example: I’ve arrested a lot of wanted women and carried out body-searches on suspected women. Before women were in the unit, Arab women took advantage of the situation and thought they were being clever by concealing things in their clothing, even in their underwear – because men wouldn’t search there.
    "But, as a woman, I can’t be tricked. We were sent to the home of a wanted man. I was dressed the same as the boys, and because we couldn’t find the man’s phone, we had to do a body search on his wife.”
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    סני
    סני
    Sunny
    (Photo: Iliya Milinkov)
    How did she react when she realized you were actually a woman?
    "She was alarmed at first as she thought I was a man. It drove her crazy when I took her into a room and asked to carry out a body search. When she realized I was a woman, she started screaming, spitting and cussing me out, calling me a whore.
    "I asked her to remove her clothing and it turned out she’d hidden the phone inside her underwear and she was on her period. It was revolting. A man in Mistarvim could never have carried out that body search.”
    Are there operations just for women?
    Gali: “No. You almost never go alone, and in larger operations, it’s never a team of one.”
    Sunny: “I once found myself alone with a suspect.”
    What happened?
    “The mission was to follow, identify and report to the unit, who would then arrest the wanted Fatah man who was planning terrorist attacks. I’d only just finished the course and I wasn’t even fully qualified, but I was sent in because they knew he was touchy and paranoid and he knew that they wanted to catch him.
    "They wanted to capture him in his home. He was supposed to meet up there with another wanted man, so they wanted to arrest them both. They sent in a girl with a cover story of being half of a couple in a car. I was chosen because I’d done a lot of operations which included going in and walking around on my own and my appearance fits in with the surroundings. I was warned: 'Because you’re not qualified, whatever happens you don’t leave the car. In this operation, you’re a wallflower.'“
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    שיתוף פעולה בין צה"ל, שב"כ ומג"ב שהוביל למעצר שישה מבוקשים ברחבי יהודה ושומרון והבקעה והעמקים
    שיתוף פעולה בין צה"ל, שב"כ ומג"ב שהוביל למעצר שישה מבוקשים ברחבי יהודה ושומרון והבקעה והעמקים
    Border Police forces cooperating in West Bank
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    What happened?
    “At two or three in the morning, the wanted man went into the village and cut into an alleyway. It was pitch dark and there wasn’t a soul out on the street. What was I supposed to do now? There was no one to chase after him - that would expose the operation.
    "We were afraid that we were losing him and his meeting with the second wanted man. Then they told me to go after him. But, hang on, I’m a wallflower. I’m not supposed to get out of the car. I’d only just joined the unit. Although I wasn’t familiar with the area, I did get out of the car.”
    Weren’t you afraid?
    “For months, we’d been training 20 hours a day for just this. I was much stronger and faster than he was and I’d shoot him between the eyes if he attacked me. I followed him into the alley, knowing that if anyone approached me, I’d press the button on the walkie-talkie so they’d know I was in danger and tell whoever approached me that I was lost. I was two alleyways away from his house. He didn’t notice me following him until I reported into the unit that he’d entered the house.”
    Almost all operations, however, are conducted as part of a couple or a larger group. Gali: “We were asked to report details of a wanted man who was about to go into a restaurant on his own. It’s important to be familiar with social codes. You can’t hold hands with or kiss your partner in public.
    "This could expose you. Conversely, my partner going on his own into the restaurant where they generally know all the customers, would have drawn attention thus endangering both himself and the mission. So, we went to the restaurant dressed as husband and wife. When the suspect arrived, we reported it and left to allow the unit to make the arrest. “
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    אילוסטרציה
    אילוסטרציה
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    How do you leave a restaurant without raising suspicion?
    “That’s the thing. You have to embed yourself in your surroundings. You need to behave like everyone else, not draw attention to yourself. You need to leave in the most natural way, like a couple going home. We jumped straight into the escape vehicle waiting for us.“
    Sunny: “I was in a forest on a stake-out with a partner. We were following a suicide bomber who was about to blow himself up in Jerusalem. You can’t take chances with terrorists with suicide belts. We set ourselves up as a couple in the bushes.
    "The story was that if anyone showed up, we’d start making out. We spread out a blanket by the side of the road, at a safe distance so that we would see him first. We then saw two people get into a car. We let them get into the car and carry on driving a short distance. We reported their movements and the unit caught them. At the time, potential suicide bombers were being arrested on a daily basis. It wasn’t all reported in the media.”
    Gali: “We once had a mission in a hospital where a wanted man who’d been shot by our forces was being treated. I disguised myself and I went to visit him with my ‘husband.'”
    How do Mistarvim get to hospital patients?
    “You go up to the right floor and, if necessary, you go into the room using various characters. The most important thing is to get information about him. Who’s with him? Who’s come to visit him? Who’s he talking to? Does he have partners? Is anyone calling him or sending him messages? Our expertise is finding out these things."
    Sunny: “I remember one operation I knew would be complicated. We’d been told to find a certain suicide bomber in Jerusalem. How the hell were we supposed to find him in a million people? We don’t want to open fire in a crowded area. We dressed up as people out on the town, scanning one person after another. We bought ice-cream to so as to not raise suspicion. He was eventually caught at a roadblock.“
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    אישה
    אישה
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    How do you prep for an operation? Do you pray? Are there superstitions?
    Gali: “I’m mentally strong. It doesn’t affect me.”
    Sunny: “I don’t believe in God. It’s important that people don’t talk to me before a mission. I go over the list of things in my head: the equipment, the map, what the streets look like, entrances and exits and the codes. You need to memorize a never-ending list.”
    Shir: “I have a mental pre-process, a kind of ritual designed to check that everything’s in place; that I won’t drop the walkie-talkie or that wires aren’t sticking out. I meditate and fully become the character I’m about to play – just like an actor.”
    Are you ever afraid?
    “When you’re in the field, you’re not afraid. You’re fully focused on the mission.”
    Gali: “But on a joint mission, it’s scary if someone with you gets nervous. In the beginning I was afraid. I did lots of exercises and simulations. I went into lots of places to gather intelligence, or I’d go to buy something in a store in an Arab neighborhood. You feel much calmer once you’ve learnt how to embed yourself in the field.”
    What do you mean “embed yourself in the field?"
    It doesn’t mean living there, but rather being an extra in a movie. The less you talk, the less you stand out, the few tracks you leave, the better.“
    Gali: “It’s not wearing a pink hijab. You have to pay attention to the tiniest of details. For example, Arab women have their eye-brows plucked really narrow, so we had to have ours done that way too.“
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    אילוסטרציה
    אילוסטרציה
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    Have you ever killed a terrorist?
    Shir: “Almost, when I pulled out my gun in a village.”
    Gali: “Not me, but I’ve arrested a lot of wanted terrorists.”
    Sunny: “Yes, but I wasn’t alone. We all shot him. He was a sieve by the time he got to Abu Kabir.”
    Can you give more details?
    “I’d rather not.”
    The greatest fear for any Mistarev is their cover being blown. It could lead to a confrontation with a crowd, some of whom may be armed - or “Fauda” meaning chaos, recently popularized by the Israeli TV series.
    It happened to Shir. “Leading up to a very serious arrest, I was ascribed an intelligence-gathering mission with my partner. For some time, we wandered around a village as a couple almost every day.”
    Didn’t anyone suspect you?
    “No. We became locals with a cover story. On the day of the arrest, we were on a walking stake-out and we saw that the unit had already unloaded the vehicle to prepare for the arrests. Then there was a glitch: suddenly a vehicle we didn’t know about showed up. Sitting in it were two members of the terror-cell, dressed as soldiers.
    "They were armed and wearing ski-masks. It was unexpected and it put us all in danger. We instantly reported two additional suspects. One of them started running towards us. Remember that we’re there as ‘locals.’ He was running at us with a gun in his hand. What were we supposed to do? My partner tripped him.
    "He fell to the ground. A confrontation between the two ensued. When I saw he was in danger, I put a gun to the terrorist’s head. Just imagine Arab woman pulling a gun. My cover was blown. It was in broad daylight. The whole village - which had been throwing stones at us, screaming and cussing - suddenly froze. Like they’d been put on mute.“
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    הלוחמים שניטרלו את המחבל מהפיגוע בשער שכם
    הלוחמים שניטרלו את המחבל מהפיגוע בשער שכם
    Border Police soldiers
    (Photo: Israel Police)
    How did the terrorist react?
    “He froze on the ground. He was gob smacked. He couldn’t function. His friend seized the moment and ran away. He overtook us, but eventually we caught him.”
    And how were you rescued?
    “A rescue force came to extract us, but I suddenly realized that my cover was blown. The unit wasn’t happy about it. Some of the female fighters supported me, but others said I should have run after the second suspect despite the command that I’m forbidden to. I was removed from the field for three months.”
    What’s the most dangerous place in which you’ve operated?
    Gali: “In Shu’afat refugee camp in east Jerusalem, there was a terrorist we needed to arrest. We needed to stake him out and report. There were horrendous traffic jams that day and the unit were held up. When we were about to go into a café, the suspect was just about to leave and the unit arrived at the very last minute.
    "There was huge chaos when we arrested him. At that point, I was afraid. As we didn’t want to be followed, we immediately got into the van and went into an alleyway. From there we called in to be extracted."
    Shir: “The most dangerous place I’ve been is kasbah (old city) in Hebron. We were sent in to arrest a suspect in an insanely over-crowded place. We were in a rickety transit van and the further in we went in, the more and more crowded it became.
    "It was horrifying. We were in a few undercover vehicles and I was the only girl. We knew that the suspect was in a store. Two guys unloaded the equipment from the vehicle and my partner and I stayed inside, posing as a couple. We were supposed to get out and report in about what was going on with the suspect.”
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    Border Police officer
    Border Police officer
    Border Police officer
    (Photo: Israel Police)
    And what actually happened?
    “As the two guys got out and arrested him, they blew everyone’s cover. The Palestinians were screaming ‘Mistarvim, Mistarvim’, and they started shooting at us. As the rescue force didn’t make it in time, we made a run for it. There was rioting on the road and the rickety transit van was falling apart.
    "The Palestinians were throwing cement blocks from the balconies as we were speeding away, trying not to get shot. We made it to the base. The transit van was written off. We had injuries all over our bodies, including a dislocated shoulder.”
    You talk about terrorists and arrests, but there are innocent civilians and children too. Have you ever had a moral dilemma in the field?
    Sunny: “Yes, we were arresting a suspect who had weapons and explosives in his home, planning for terror attacks. There were seven small children in the house. They were all in one room. As the house was being searched, I had to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t move. That really changed how I saw things.
    "You show up all pumped, you want to get your hands on the terrorist, you wake them up in the middle of the night, and then a loving, wide-eyed four-year-old looks at you with the biggest smile ever – because for him you’re like a character out of the movies. I was standing there in front of them with a cocked M16 and I told myself that I’d definitely strangle anyone if they were standing like that in front of my nephew.“
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    שיתוף פעולה בין צה"ל, שב"כ ומג"ב שהוביל למעצר שישה מבוקשים ברחבי יהודה ושומרון והבקעה והעמקים
    שיתוף פעולה בין צה"ל, שב"כ ומג"ב שהוביל למעצר שישה מבוקשים ברחבי יהודה ושומרון והבקעה והעמקים
    Border Police officer in the West Bank
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    What did you do?
    “So that the children wouldn’t be afraid, I smiled at them and brought out my braid from the head covering.”
    Women who’ve served in Border Police undercover units are divided over the eternal question of what would happen if a female fighter were to be captured. Gali admitted that she was afraid of such a situation, that captivity is much more serious for women than for men, but that the benefits far outweigh the danger.
    Sunny just says: “Anyone who’s afraid of being captured, raped or abused should just leave.” Shir believes that the narrative about the danger for women in captivity is chauvinistic.
    “The story that you’ll be raped, that you can’t be recruited to special forces, is a patriarchal view. Who are you to decide what’s good for me, or for my body or in which army unit I can serve? Why should a girl hoping to do great things for the country grow up knowing that she doesn’t even have these options? At the end of the day, she should be the one to decide what’s best and right for her.”
    There are sectors of society that oppose women serving in the army at all, especially in combat units.
    Shir: “I’ve had enough of that kind of male chauvinist stuff. All the options need to be open and girls can make their own decisions.”
    Sunny: “Primitives will remain primitive. I’m not here to fix the world. I did my part in an undercover unit for three and a half years and I’ve seen that girls can do it, that they are an asset.”
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    שילוב נשים ביחידות המובחרות של צה''ל
    שילוב נשים ביחידות המובחרות של צה''ל
    Female IDF soldier in combat training
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    Two months ago, Hativat Mivtza’im (Special Operations Brigade) exposed an issue proving embarrassing for Yamas: A senior commander in the unit was convicted of indecent assault against a young policewoman.
    The indictment said that the commander picked her up in his car and explained to her that they were going out on an “operation,” in which the cover story was that they were a couple. During this “operation,” he kissed her for a prolonged period of time and caressed her beneath her clothing, on her buttocks and on her chest.
    He invited her again a few days later for another “operation,” when he kissed her again. In the trial, he claimed that this constituted training for such operations. The judge rejected his defense and sentenced him to 16 months in jail. He was discharged from the Border Police and is currently appealing his conviction.
    Where’s the line between what truly has to be done for the mission and a sexual offence?
    Sunny: “I’m not really familiar with the details of the case, but his behavior definitely seems strange. If it all took place without any connection to the field, then yes, he crossed a line. I’d have punched him in the face. If the cover story’s a homeless person begging on the street and you don’t behave like one, you’ve blown your cover. The same goes for a couple in a car in the forest.
    "If we’re lying in wait for a terrorist and I have to make out with someone for the mission, there are no feelings involved. I’m undercover with a loaded gun. I’m a Hollywood actress. What’s harder, staking out a terrorist with a suicide belt or kissing a guy in the unit? You’re a professional and these things don’t bother you. You draw the line where it should be, not beyond.
    “It’s like the use of force. You do whatever’s needed. A Mistarvim ‘couple’ were in a car staking out the home of a wanted man when three men approached the car. They realized they now needed to ‘do it,' so he put his hands under her shirt. It had to look real.”
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    פעילות הכוחות ביהודה ושומרון
    פעילות הכוחות ביהודה ושומרון
    Border Police forces
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    How did it end?
    “The men knocked on the car window and asked ‘Who are you guys?’ The Mistarev replied: ‘Hey bro, why are you bothering me. Can’t you see that I picked up a looker?’ He said: ‘I’m sorry, man’ and walked away. It was all done without any emotions, everything is measured. We’re like a family in the unit.“
    You mention family. How did your family deal with what you were doing? Your friends and boyfriends?
    Gali: “My family knew I was in Yamas, but they didn’t know what I was doing there. I don’t have a lot of girlfriends, so that wasn’t really such an issue. I met my husband while I was in the unit, so he knew what I was doing. It was good to behave someone to share what you’re going through with.“
    Sunny: “My father had already died. I only told my mother on her deathbed. I wasn’t allowed to tell my friends outside the unit. When people asked, I told them I was in the Border Police, serving in Jerusalem.“
    Didn’t they ask what you did?
    “I said I was happy because it was in the city and that I wasn’t doing much, just walking around looking for suspects.“
    All three are very proud of their service, but are also candid about the emotional scars it incurred. They behave differently to other girls their own age.
    Gali: “For example, I’d never sit down with someone with my back to the door. I constantly hear the sound of shooting from the training. I’m very sensitive on that front.”
    Shir: “Whenever something happens, I tighten up. I’m always on my guard.”
    Sunny: “I haven’t had much of a private life. Even after my service, I was still involved. But it gives you a sense of proportion. During my service, I did crazy stuff that was thrilling, dangerous and challenging – I jumped a terrorist wearing a suicide belt. My private life involves things that are much less intense, so it’s easier to deal with failure and when things go wrong.“
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    פעילות הכוחות ביהודה ושומרון
    פעילות הכוחות ביהודה ושומרון
    Border Police soldier
    (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    Like what?
    “If guy breaks up with me, I’m very rational about it: Okay, it happened. Why did it happen? I do a debriefing: What lead to what? I do summaries in my head. As a human being, it helps you understand where mistakes were made. Was your judgement flawed?
    "How didn’t you see it coming? We’ve become people who are not governed by our feelings. Everything in life is like a mission. Going to the bank becomes a mission. When am I going to get up? Do I have time for a coffee and a cigarette? Where am I going to park? It’s all very organized.“
    When did that change?
    "When I finished with all my security excitement and I became a youth leader for 10th grade kids in a boarding school. I was as cold as ice. I had no feelings. Everything was a military operation. For the first six months, the kids nicknamed me ‘Gestapo.'
    "I then realized that I had to not only come up with demands and expectation, but I also had to give. So, instead of punishing a girl who was late with lights-out, crying that her mother who was overseas hadn’t visited her in six months, I hugged her and I cried with her. I realized that my feelings and sensitivity were back.”
    Do you have nightmares?
    Shir: “I used to dream that I was in the field and that I couldn’t draw my gun, that it was stuck, or that I’d dropped my walkie-talkie.”
    Gali: “You live with constant tension, you’re always vigilant. I haven’t worn nail varnish in years. I’d clip them, like men do.”
    Sunny: “I didn’t have nightmares, but my jaw would lock at night. After my service ended, my mother would knock on my door and I’d jump out of bed as if for a mission.”
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    כוחות מג"ב העיר העתיקה
    כוחות מג"ב העיר העתיקה
    Border Police soldier in Jerusalem
    (Photo: EPA)
    Lots of Mistarvim are post-traumatic
    Shir: “I was diagnosed with post-trauma. I was in denial, but after I finished my service, getting up without it being for an operation, or without an alarm clock didn’t seem normal to me. I’d react to everything as if I was making an arrest in the field. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel someone’s following me. I’m constantly afraid that someone’s listening into my phone conversations. This double life has stayed with me.“
    Sunny: “I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It means that I’d suppressed everything, but the stress was eating my body away from inside. I’m still dealing with it.”
    Shir: “When Mistarvim boys finish their service, they’re thought of as ‘salt of the earth,’ and they’re held in high regard. We girls are sitting here and you can plainly see our talents and capabilities. Does it make any sense that we complete our service and no one recognizes our abilities? You’ve no idea the level of self-esteem with which I finished my service. Depression, eating disorders…
    "That’s what we got for four and half years. In the end, I did everything I could to prove I’m a woman. For years, I wouldn’t wear tight-fitting clothing – so people wouldn’t see my body, so that people wouldn’t see me as a woman, because ‘woman’ is a term of abuse. A woman in the Mistarvim is a concealed woman. You mustn’t stand out in a room.”
    How do you feel you’ve benefited from your service?
    Gali: “Fear is not the deciding factor in our lives. It doesn’t hold us back.”
    Sunny: “In the unit, you get tools to help you deal with any challenge. For example, an enormous ability to neutralize feelings. Let’s say you break down on the coastal road and there’s smoke coming out of your engine. Other women would stress out."
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    המסתערבות ששירתו במג"ב
    המסתערבות ששירתו במג"ב
    Galli, Shir and Sunny
    (Photo: Iliya Milinkov)
    "I turn off the car, turn on the blinkers, get out of the car and deal with it. Your mind is trained. Everything’s automatic and you don’t get stressed out. You could put me anywhere and I’ll find my way to wherever I need to be.”
    Shir: “These are tools for life that I wouldn’t get anywhere else. If you seek treatment for the PTSD, you can lead a well-ordered, high-quality life.”
    Would you advise your daughter to serve in the Mistarvim?
    Gali: “Definitely not! It’s extremely demanding and you need to make a lot of concessions. It’s all or nothing. You can enjoy military service in other parts of the army.”
    Sunny: “I would, but with reservations. I believe in the unit and how professional it is, but why would I let my daughter constantly endanger her own life?”
    In hindsight, was joining the Mistarvim a mistake?
    Sunny: “Definitely not.”
    Gali: “I feel I missed out. I feel I could have given more, if they’d have just let me. Although I felt good about myself, I was very much alone, and you’re not allowed to feel anything. And you’re definitely not allowed to cry.”
    Shir: “People also need to understand that it’s not like on ‘Fauda.'”
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    רונה לי שמעון ב'פאודה'
    רונה לי שמעון ב'פאודה'
    From 'Fauda'
    (Photo: Ronen Ackerman, PR)
    I assume you’ve seen the show
    Sunny: “Actually, I haven’t seen it. I lived it. I don’t want it to make me miss it. From what I’ve heard, what happens on ‘Fauda’ is nothing compared to what really goes on.”
    Shir: “Yes, I watched it. Although ‘Fauda’ is Hollywood-style, it’s super-authentic. I turned on the television one day, watched ‘Fauda’ and: Boom! I was watching and not really taking in what I was seeing. I had the biggest flashback ever. My thoughts have been reeling ever since.”
    What thoughts?
    “How I was silent for all those years. How I was ashamed of all the things I did and why I’m not proudly walking around the streets with my head held high.”
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