When the boys in Alice Miller’s high school class in Hod Hasharon, Israel, were summoned to qualification exams for the Israeli Air Force, Miller was not even considered, despite holding a civilian pilot license, because Israel bars women from combat.
Miller took the army to the Israeli Supreme Court in November of 1994, charging sex discrimination and demanding that combat roles be opened to women, according to THE NEW YORK TIMES. The case is the first time the army has been ordered to explain its ban on women in combat. Although Israel is the only country that drafts women as well as men. Miller is quoted as saying that “There’s a myth of the Israeli woman soldier fighting in the front and doing exactly what men do. But if you take a deeper look, you see that most women in the army serve coffee to their commanders.”
Manpower shortages and pressure to expand opportunities for women have led to an increased variety of positions offered to women. Many now serve as infantry, gunnery instructors, flight controllers, operations officers and radar operators in front-line units, aircraft mechanics and explosives experts. But they are still barred from combat. No formal reasons are given, although military and Government officials cite a concern that women might be taken prisoner and raped. “There are women who are assaulted in our army, too,” Miller said. “But the feeling is that if Arabs do this to our women, that’s terrible. It’s a protective reaction.”
Senior officers say it is impractical to invest in long-term training programs for women because they serve only 21 months of regular duty, spend little time in the reserves and are likely to lose time because of pregnancy and childbirth. In contrast, men serve three years of regular service and can be called to the reserves until they are 50. But Miller says she is ready to serve the full five-year term and reserve duty required of pilots, and plan her family accordingly.
The combat ban against women represents public perception of women in Israel. Dr. Reuven Gal, a former chief army psychologist, explains, “There’s a sense that we men are on the front line defending our homes and our families. Women are the symbol of the family, of the children, of the next generation. If they are with us at the front, what are we fighting for, whom are we protecting?”
Neta Ziv Goldman, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which is representing Miller, said, “The fact that men go to combat and women keep the home fires burning has a deep impact on the way our society views women. Society will look at them differently if they have a chance to participate as men do in what is viewed as one of the most important tasks here: risking your life in the defense of your country.”