I know exactly what must have gone through Alice Miller's mind when she heard the announcement that Friday's infiltration attack on the Egyptian border was stopped by the bullet of a female marksman from the Caracal Battalion combat unit. Miller was the insistent civilian pilot and aeronautical engineer who petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to allow her to take the Israel Air Force exams in 1995. She was the impetus for significant changes regarding women in the Israel Defense Forces. Miller now knows that another young heroine has joined the unique battle history of female fighters.
This was not just a combat exercise. In the true test of a dangerous and violent situation, in which the soldier's resourcefulness and skills come into play, the female marksman saved Israel from a widespread killing spree.
Indeed, when the IDF was established in 1948, David Ben-Gurion stressed that, "if the women of Israel were not in the army, we would distort the image of the community. No woman is exempt from service, neither devoid of any right nor exempt from any obligation." But the rise from Ben-Gurion's words to the actions of the heroic Caracal female combat soldier was long and exhausting, full of obstacles and Supreme Court cases. Images of the Caracal female combat soldiers, descending on their targets in their dusty red shoes, painted in war camouflage and sweating, are well-known to the Israeli public. The IDF Spokesperson's Unit is justifiably insistent on exposing these special photogenic units to display their pride in women who perform their military service with the proper motivation, signing on for the full three years, like their male counterparts, instead of the shorter service requirement for most women. Television cameras film them in action; magazine articles have described their first battalion drills. They are heroines, they are highly motivated and they are stellar examples. Now they also have their long-deserved honor — to be able to tell stories and be proud — and have raised the prestige of their unit.
In the year 2000, Amendment 16 was added to the Security Service Law originally passed in 1986, guaranteeing women equal rights to men to fill any military role, unless the nature and character of the position are such that it can only be filled by a man. But the truly relevant questions are not asked at the various conferences dealing with the status of women and the discussions on equal opportunities in all sectors: Is the IDF, which has a clear and defined purpose, supposed to promote gender equality and rights? Is the army as a unifying force that accepts into its ranks people from such a wide range of backgrounds, responsible for creating an egalitarian society? How, in light of the structural barrier created by the Security Service Law, which requires that men enlist for three years but women for only two, can the IDF continue to open more and more roles to women?
One 18-year old female soldier gave the sharp and precise answer appropriate to many of these questions. It turned out she was raised in an Orthodox home and could easily have avoided combat service. She was raised to avoid it, but she sought a way to contribute significantly to her country. Her heroic story must be told now to a generation uncertain about military service enlistment. Where is it heading? I have no doubt that just like Miller in her time, this young woman will raise the stakes in this important discussion and inspire other potential female combat soldiers to follow in her path.