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The Deborah Force— Women Warriors of the IDF

September 22, 2016

by: Kathy DeGagne, BFP Staff Writer

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Female Soldiers of the Field Intelligence Corps Train Combat female soldiers from the Field Intelligence Corps train in the Negev desert.In Judges 4 we read the account of the mighty Canaanite army led by King Jabin of Hazor, swarming over the Valley of Jezreel, determined to purge the Israelites from the Land once and for all. The meager band of Israelite fighters were no match for Jabin’s 100,000 troops and 900 lethal iron chariots, and their destruction seemed certain. But God had a different plan, and into that chaos, He raised up a military commander and strategist named Deborah.

Call to Arms

Deborah was serving Israel as a prophetess, judge and “mother,” dispensing justice and wisdom, settling disputes and drawing the disobedient nation back into a covenant relationship with God. The God of Israel was now directing her to lead the Israelite army into battle.

Under Deborah’s command, Israel emerged victorious. The deadly Canaanite chariots were rendered powerless, bogged down in a sea of mud caused by a supernatural downpour; General Sisera, on the run from the battlefield, was slain by a woman named Jael; and not one Canaanite warrior was left to tell the tale. Forty years of peace reigned over Israel—all because a courageous Israelite woman heard God’s call to arms and answered.

Our Enemies Are Many

In the current atmosphere of the Middle East—one that is possibly even more deadly and hostile than Deborah experienced—Israeli women are again answering the call to defend their nation from aggression.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, female combat soldiers have regularly served in the nation’s defense forces. David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, instituted a mandatory draft for women who did not have children, to serve during the War of Independence. Many served in combat roles in the Haganah, a precursor to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). Ben Gurion argued that every able-bodied person had to be called in to serve the newly birthed state, including women. They needed to know how to fight to protect their families and their nation. He wrote:

“…security will not exist if our nation’s women do not know how to fight. We are few—and our enemies are many…the security of our nation and the safety of every man and woman in Israel is in danger…all our sons and our daughters must know how to defend themselves, their nation and their land.”

Women Warriors

On a trip to Tel Aviv one day, an Israeli friend pointed to a female soldier walking down the street, and said to me, “She’s a combat soldier.” Her voice was filled with pride for the young woman. This warm admiration came from a woman who had herself served with distinction in the Yom Kippur War forty years before. Israelis are very proud of the young people called to defend their nation and hold a special regard for the young women within their ranks.

Israel is one of the few nations of the world that have a mandatory draft for women. After finishing high school, men and women enter military service, men for three years and women for two. Female combat soldiers are required to serve a mandatory three years like their male counterparts, and then serve in the reserve forces up to age 38 whether they have children or not. The 1,500 young women who are drafted into combat units of the Israeli Defense Forces every year are collectively hefting a spear—or in this case, an UZI submachine gun—to serve in a multitude of ways.

Sheer Willpower and Strength

There are a number of co-ed battalions in the IDF. The recently established Lions of the Jordan Valley Battalion comprises both men and women and is assigned to protect Israel’s border with Jordan. The Caracal Battalion is a combat force established in 2000 that guards the borders of Israel with Egypt and Jordan. Close to 70% of the unit is made up of female combat soldiers. One soldier remarked that he began his service in a co-ed battalion pretty close-minded about women being competent combat solders, but after serving alongside the female soldiers he acknowledged “the sheer willpower and strength of the women in the unit.” He concluded, “Some of the most capable combat soldiers I know are women.” While there have been a few bumps in the gender-equality road, over 90% of all positions in the IDF are open to women, and a full 55% of all IDF officers are female.

Oketz is a canine unit where soldiers are partnered with dogs and train them to sniff out explosives, terrorists and other security risks. A female combat solder in Oketz described her time in the military: “The course and training period are very intense,” she said. “You’re talking about a year of living on a stopwatch, being on constant alert. There are a lot of physical and psychological hardships but these difficulties helped create the extraordinary relationships I have with all the girls I serve with…and, of course, my relationship with my amazing dog. Throughout my service in this unit, I’ve gotten nothing but respect” (idfblog.com).

As in most evil regimes, the Canaanites of Deborah’s day targeted the young Israelite women as spoils of war. Yazidi and Christian women of the Middle East today are experiencing that same horror from the Islamic State. Ben Gurion’s argument that all women must learn how to defend themselves rings true in a modern Israel beset by relentless enemies. But the women of the Israel Defense Forces have more than their personal safety at stake—they have been called to defend the very ground in which the Jewish nation has been rooted. Israel’s modern-day Deborahs are rising to the challenge.

Photo Credit: Barak Chen/ IDF Spokesperson Unit

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