Flying Victory for Women in Israel

Is the myth of the Israeli women soldiers fighting side by side with the men finally about to become a reality? As LILITH reported in Spring 1995, Alice Miller, a 23-year-old soldier, took the Israeli Air Force to court when she was barred from qualifying exams to become an Air Force pilot.

On November 8, 1995 the Israeli Supreme Court made a historic decision that ruled that the Air Force had illegally discriminated on the basis of gender. Alice Miller, who already holds a civilian’s pilot license, was then allowed to take the entrance exams to become a fighter pilot. Aided by legal counsel from the Israel Women’s Network and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Miller won a 3-2 decision by the five member tribunal which includes two women. Justice Dalia Domer stated, “Barring women from the pilot-training course offends their honor and degrades them. It also validates the degrading popular saying, ‘Good men to the air force, good women to the airmen.’ Non-conscription of women to the pilot-training course means losing the potential of half the population— a condition which damages the entire society.”

Following this monumental decision, both the army and the Knesset have begun preparation for changes in law and procedure. The IAF is planning an experimental recruitment and flight-training program for women. Naomi Chazan and other women in the Knesset have drafted a bill that would allow women to volunteer to serve in other positions in the armed forces from which they are currently excluded.

Being a pilot is arguably the most prestigious post in the Israeli Defense Forces, which in turn leads to great respect and opportunity in civilian society. Until now, that respect and opportunity have been reserved only for men. The limitations placed on women in the army generate sexist attitudes in Israeli society and have created unequal opportunity for women once they return to civilian Israeli life. By giving men and women different jobs, not only does the army reinforce traditional sex roles, but it grooms men for positions of power in Israeli politics and business while it prepares women to be men’s secretaries.

Even with the good intentions of some members of the Knesset and the support of civil rights and women’s groups, progress may be very slow. Unfortunately, Alice Miller failed her tests to become a pilot. However, her courage to stand up to the government has paved the way for women to begin to make the vaunted myth of the gender equality in the Israeli Defence Forces a reality.