Victims, Leading IDF Officers and Peace Activists: Israeli Women on the Front of Every Battle

As we mark International Women’s Day, it is compelling to reflect not only on some of  the triumphs but also the profound adversities faced by Israeli women throughout history and in our current times.

A century ago, Europe’s suffragettes fought valiantly for women’s right to vote, embodying a spirit of defiance against the constraints of their era. Their legacy of courage and determination paved the way for future generations to continue the fight for equality and justice.

Today, we draw a parallel to the brave female soldiers of the Israel Defense Force, who, in the face of modern threats, stand resolutely at the forefront of defense against terrorism. Yet, amidst these tales of heroism, we are reminded of the stark reality faced by the women of October 7th, whose experiences of sexual violence represent a grave failure to protect the most vulnerable among us.

As we honor the achievements and address the challenges, we reaffirm our commitment to advocating for all women, recognizing their invaluable contributions to our societies and the ongoing fight for their rights and well-being.

The October 7th attacks unveiled a horrifying chapter of sexual violence against women, a profound negligence of the most vulnerable among us. This narrative is punctuated by the chilling report submitted by Israel to the United Nations, orchestrated by the Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel (ARCCI). The ARCCI’s report lays bare the systematic sexual violence inflicted upon women by the terrorist organization Hamas during the invasion on October 7th. Orit Sulitzeanu, CEO of ARCCI, has been vocal about the necessity of international acknowledgment and action against these heinous crimes, condemning the silence that echoed through the UN and all the world’s leading Women’s Rights Groups.

Only just this week, nearly 5 months after these heinous attacks, did the UN affirm these victims’ trauma. However, amidst this darkness, shines a glimmer of hope in the stories of female soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), whose unprecedented role in combat, marks a historic shift. This evolution in the military landscape, spurred by the increased enlistment of female conscripts since October 7th, not only challenges traditional gender roles but also underlines the strategic advantage women bring to the defense sector.

Parallel to this narrative of heroism is a beacon of hope for peace, embodied by Dr. Yael Admi of “Women Wage Peace” and Reem Hajajreh of “Women of the Sun.” These leaders, from Israeli and Palestinian backgrounds respectively, advocate for nonviolent solutions and dialogue, striving for a future where peace is nurtured by the hands of those who have suffered the most. Their recognition as TIME’s Women of the Year is not just an accolade but a call to action for all, highlighting the pivotal role women play in forging paths toward reconciliation and stability.

This is merely yet another beacon of hope captured by the essence of women, this serves as yet another shining example of hope, embodied by the spirit of women. At the forefront of this struggle is the unwavering advocacy for peace, a concept with profound nuances, with women leading the charge. It is deeply moving to see that, even in the quest for peace, women are paramount and more so spearhead in tackling this battle with compassion from all sides to achieve greatness.

The inspiring story of IDF’s female tank operator Capt. Karni and her unit of heroic women of the Paran Brigade, who fought valiantly on October 7th, exemplify the intersection of combat readiness and compassion. This unit, comprised of all women ranging between the ages of 18-25, is the only all-female tank unit in the world. Their stories of rushing to the Gaza border, making critical decisions under fire, and demonstrating unparalleled bravery during the October 7th battles dispel any remaining skepticism about women’s capabilities in combat.

While protecting the border with Egypt, Captain Karni heard the dropping of bombs and immediately sprang into action. She and her tank soared through direct gunfire and rockets to reach the battleground, all the while making quick tactical decisions about how and where to deploy her soldiers. Karni describes the shock of 40 terrorists rushing towards her, spraying bullets in every direction but remembered she was fighting for her “fellow citizens”. During this whole operation, every member of their unit managed to survive the onslaught of Hamas terrorists, a true miracle.

This milestone marked the first time in history that women have fought on the front lines and been victorious. Their actions not only saved countless lives but also symbolized a breaking of barriers, setting a new precedent for women in military roles worldwide.

This inspiring story has spurred the number of females applying to combat roles significantly, women currently take part in 7% of the combat roles compared to the previous 3 % just a few years ago. This placed women yet again at the forefront of this conflict of which we are fighting on multiple fronts, yet here they represent valor and in the words of the chief of the IDF, “silenced the doubters”.

As we mark International Women’s Day, let us honor the legacy of the suffragettes by supporting the modern-day warriors and peacemakers who embody their spirit. Acknowledging the heroism of female soldiers and the anguish of sexual violence victims is foundational to our collective pursuit of a more just and equitable society. 

Confronting challenges across all spheres, women from every direction and every corner of this conflict emerge, demonstrating that we are engaged in a battle on every front, a battle decisively led and inspired by women’s resilience and leadership.

Written By ELNET-Israel’s Sara Meyers