Inside the Israeli Defense Force

by Cece Sterman

Talia* is a 30 year old woman from Kibbutz Gevim, Israel. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, who also served. She served in the Israeli army for 3 years at “Oketz”- a K9 Special Forces unit. I asked her a couple questions over email about her experience in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) as woman.

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How did you get your position in Oketz?

Before drafting, those suited for IDF Special Forces units are chosen based on the scores from their pre-draft testing. Candidates with the right medical, fitness, and intelligence scores receive an invitation for the first round of testing: Special Forces Day. Examined on their strength, their physical and mental endurance, and their skills in teamwork and cooperation. Commanders monitor the selected soldiers to assure they can handle both the physical and emotional strain of these units’ demanding activities. Those who make it to the unit are tasked with intelligence-gathering, counter-terrorism, and hostage rescue. A week after drafting, we begin a four-day tryout. Men and women undergo the Oketz tryouts together, and continue on a canine operators course for another 15 months.

Did you work with more women or men?

Because of my combat position I worked with more men than women.

Were women treated differently in your experience?

In my experience women needed to work much harder than men and we were still treated like we were inferior. Every day we needed to prove that we were as good and combatant as the men.

Did you ever witness or hear about sexual misconduct in the army?

Yes, I did, more than once. I think that most of my female friends had experienced sexual misconduct during their service. Unfortunately, I think that in any environment which includes men who rank higher than women there is high risk to have this problem.

Do you think that men were given better jobs, promotions, or other bonuses than women?

I'm sure that men were given better jobs, promotions and bonuses than women.

Do you think people treat you differently once they know you were in the army?

In Israel the military service is mandatory; almost everyone serves. I think that in Israel people treat me different because of my combat position in the Special Forces [as opposed to non combative].

Do they treat your husband the same way they treat you, knowing you were both in the army?

Here in the US people tend to respect me more than they respect [my husband], in regard to our military service. I think that most people respect me more because I was in the army. Especially in the US.

Do you think men and women have the same experience in the army?

I don't think men and women have the same experience because they usually serve in different positions- men in combat positions and women in non-combat. When serving in similar positions, I think that women usually have to work harder in order to prove themselves and earn recognition.

Is it more difficult for men or women to go far in the army, or is it the same?

In general, it is harder for women advance in the army. There may be more equality in the lower ranked and non-combat positions. But in higher ranks and combat positions it is much harder for women to advance.

I believe that the IDF is trying to take steps to improve gender equality, like allow more women to serve in combat positions and in more units (today there is only a small amount of combat units where women are allowed to serve, and promote women to higher ranked positions. Another difficulty that we have as a society in Israel is that many of the decision-makers in the government and the military are orthodox religious people and they don't believe in gender equality at all.

*names changed to preserve privacy