What’s Feminist about Women and Queer Folks in the Israeli Army?

Originally posted on Feministing.com

By Gabi Kirk

Last summer, Israel’s bombing campaign of Gaza set records for a few reasons. It was the longest of the three campaigns since 2008. It was the bloodiest. And it saw the highest number of women serve in combat positions of any Israeli military action in history.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF), Israel’s military, loves to celebrate its female soldiers. Social media savvy, the IDF Spokespersons’ office frequently posts profiles of Israeli women serving as shooting instructors, mine units, and border patrols. Last month, the IDF celebrated another new milestone for women in the military: the first female combat soldier of the Home Front Command.

At first glance this tweet seems like a benign PR announcement from the Israeli government. Pay close attention to the location listed for this soldier. Nablus is in the West Bank, and in fact is a major Palestinian city in Area A — it is supposed to be under full Palestinian control. However, Israel controls nearly all of the land just outside of the city, and frequently sends troops into Palestinian cities even though on paper they have no jurisdiction there. When three Jewish boys from a West Bank settlement went missing last summer, the IDF raided houses, arrested hundreds in raids around Nablus, and killed nine Palestinian civilians. These actions were roundly criticized as collective punishment by international human rights groups.

The U.S military has looked to Israel for examples on how to increase the presence of women in the military. And it’s not just women — the IDF brags about acceptance of gay and lesbian soldierstrans soldiers, and even vegans. Scrolling through Twitter, I wouldn’t fault a casual reader who thought the IDF was a bastion of progressive values. And it’s not just what the army officially says. A pop culture has been created about women in the Israeli army, including young adult novels for Jewish teens about American girls who come of age by leaving home and joining the army (and accompanying strange yet hilarious promo videos).

But representation politics is not enough. Feminists in the US, for instance, recognize that just because there are individual women who advocate against Planned Parenthood and against reproductive rights, does not make the anti-choice movement feminists. Similarly, simply counting the number of women or queer people in the army is not a cause for celebration, when that army is responsible for upholding decades of military occupation and brutality. Feminism that celebrates accepting women and queer folk into oppressive and violent systems is not just.

There is nothing progressive about the IDF, where soldiers of any sexuality violate human rights. They pull Palestinians from their homes in the middle of the night and hold them indefinitely without trial. There is nothing progressive about last summer’s bombing of Gaza, where Israel killed over 2,000 Gazans, over 50% of them civilians and over 500 children, plus thousands more wounded and disabled. And there is nothing just about the IDF’s actions: while Israel state media justifies everything in the name of security, in reality it is the entrenched military occupation and Israel’s de facto apartheid rule over the non-Jewish Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza which is the biggest threat to life and property. And with the recent horrible attack on the Jerusalem pride parade, deep rooted bigotry in Israeli society at large is rearing its head more than ever. Recent investigative videos show that, even casually walking down the street, gay men face homophobia.

Life is not safe under occupation and apartheid for Palestinians, whether they are women, LGBT, or even vegan. It’s an intense double standard to lift up diversity in the IDF while ignoring the horrible quality of life for Palestinians of every gender and sexuality under occupation. All the positive tweets in the world about women and gay soldiers won’t make up for that.

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