Women petition High Court for the right to serve as tank crew in IDF

Pair of 19-year-olds argue that by not allowing women to serve in some combat roles, the military is violating their right to equality

A female soldier operates a tank in the Negev desert, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
A female soldier operates a tank in the Negev desert, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Two women filed a High Court petition Tuesday demanding the right to serve in combat roles as tank crew members when they are drafted into the army in March 2020.

In their petition, Or Abramson and Maayan Halbershtat argued that “failure to integrate women into combat roles is a violation of their right to equality.”

The court papers named as defendants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who is also defense minister — along with the Israel Defense Forces, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and the State of Israel, Army Radio reported.

Abramson told the radio station: “I believe in the army, I don’t understand why it doesn’t believe in me. The [combat] role should be filled by people who want to contribute and are able to. It doesn’t matter what gender they are.”

The petition challenged the army to explain why it was preventing women from serving as tank crew in the Armored Corps, considering that a pilot program for female tank crews was deemed a success last year.

The program was designed to see whether women could make up the four-person crews necessary to operate tanks in “routine security operations” within Israel’s borders or just beyond them — not in wars or in fighting deep behind enemy lines. Female soldiers were already permitted to serve as tank instructors within the Armored Corps, and also serve in various combat roles in the Infantry Corps, Air Force, Artillery Corps and special forces.

The army nevertheless decided that full gender integration of the Armored Corps would be shelved for the time being due to the significant costs of the move in manpower and resources. After the pilot program, the tank operators were incorporated as regular infantry fighters into the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion.

The program faced considerable criticism after it was announced in November 2016. One former general called it a “left-wing” conspiracy to weaken the military. Others, however, lauded the program as a necessary corrective.

A group of female soldiers take part in a training exercise in the tank commanders’ course, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The tank trial was part of a growing trend of women filling combat positions in the IDF. In recent years the number of female combat soldiers has increased nearly fivefold, from 547 in 2012 to 2,700 in 2017. Last summer, some 1,000 women were inducted into the IDF to serve in combat units, the largest number to do so in the country’s history.

Critics of gender integration often decry it as a dangerous social experiment with potential ramifications for national security, while defenders generally trumpet it as a long-needed measure, one that has already been implemented in many Western countries.

Detractors note that some requirements for the female combat soldiers have been lowered — which they say is a sign that effectiveness is being sacrificed — and that servicewomen suffer stress injuries at a higher rate.

The army insists that it is allowing more women to serve in combat positions out of practical considerations, not due to a social agenda, saying it requires all the woman- and manpower available to it.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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