Paying homage to Israel’s fallen female soldiers

The war in Gaza is the first where such a large number of women have been fighting behind enemy lines

On the surface, a new website titled Women Warriors, is a heartbreaking tribute to the 52 young Israeli women – soldiers, police officers, IDF paramedics, and one Shin Bet agent – killed while serving their country over the last seven months of war.

But the creators of the first-of-its-kind site, which was launched ahead of the country’s annual Memorial Day on Monday and features a history of Israeli women’s contribution to the security establishment, are hopeful that it will also stand as testament to the changing roles of women and their abilities in a field – and an institution – largely dominated by men.

They also believe that by documenting the stories of these brave soldiers and security personnel, the site will pave the way for other women to serve in more meaningful and influential positions in Israel’s security forces, particularly the military.

“Our goal was to create a website that provides all the information about women who have fallen [in service to the country],” Col. (res.) Maya Heller, chairperson of Forum Dvorah, a nonprofit that promotes the equal representation of women in key decision-making positions in the fields of national security and foreign policy – and the mastermind behind the project – told Jewish Insider.

“There are some very heroic stories from Oct. 7, and we felt that we had to tell them,” Heller said of the website, which will soon be translated into English.

“Not all the female soldiers killed on Oct. 7 were in combat roles, but even so, we heard many brave stories of these soldiers, who fought without guns or any kind of combat training,” she said, adding, “They simply understood the need to defend the country… and they paid the ultimate price.”

According to the army’s official statistics, 620 soldiers – both male and female – have been killed since Oct. 7 (roughly half on that day), when thousands of terrorists led by Hamas’ elite Nukhba force infiltrated southern Israel attacking army bases, civilians’ communities and a mass music festival. In total, 1,200 people were killed and another 250 were taken hostage, including many soldiers who are still being held by Hamas. Fifteen of the female soldiers killed on Oct. 7 served as ‘spotters‘ on the border, the first line of Israel’s defense, and at least five female soldiers kidnapped by Hamas remain in captivity.

The army updates the public almost daily with further details of those killed in battle, including in northern Israel as it grapples with the fundamental Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon and also in the West Bank, where tensions have been high since the war in Gaza started. Yet there is no special emphasis on female soldiers, who have been increasingly engaged in fighting alongside their male counterparts behind enemy lines in roles that were previously off limits.

Israel is one of a handful of countries where women are mandated by law to serve in the military, yet over the past three decades some female recruits have been forced to take legal action in order to gain access to more meaningful roles. Beginning with a 1994 landmark court case to enable women to train as pilots, female soldiers have been edging their way into combat roles and more recently have joined tank commands and elite units.

Female IDF soldiers in combat

Last December, two months after Israel began its ground operation in Gaza, the army reported a massive spike in female conscripts seeking to join such units, the Times of Israel reported.

Miri Eisen, a retired IDF colonel and director of the International Institute for Counterterrorism at Reichman University near Tel Aviv, told JI that past efforts are finally taking shape in this war.

However, she said the increased number of women in combat roles – ranging from infantry units to tanks commands to vital communication positions, including in the reserves – has also meant an increase in “fallen women soldiers.”

Eisen, who is among the founders of the Dvorah Forum, said that it was now important to highlight their progress and their contribution, beyond the official memorial ceremonies, because “we are at a real changing point” in Israel’s military history.

“This is the first war where we are seeing women at all different levels and their heroism needs to be celebrated,” she said, adding that it was especially important given dissenting voices in Israeli society that still believe women should remain excluded from certain military roles or left out of the army entirely.  

“There are many voices who openly say that women should not be in the military and in combat, so we wanted to highlight and to celebrate the amazing things that they have achieved in this war, and to inspire the next generation,” Eisen said.

One of the inspiring stories highlighted on the Women Warriors website belongs to Sgt. Eden Alon Levy, 19, who was killed in hand-to-hand combat with Hamas terrorists on her army base of Zikim, on Oct. 7.

According to accounts by other soldiers who were present, Eden, a commander for new recruits in the army’s search and rescue unit, instructed the younger soldiers to seek shelter while she faced dozens of invading terrorists.

“I was not surprised that she acted this way,” her mother, Inbar Alon Levy, told JI. “I could not imagine her doing anything else – there was no way she would have waited for someone else to rescue her, especially when she knew that her soldiers were hiding in the shelter behind her, expecting her to protect them.”

“The minute you choose this path, to be a fighter, then you understand that it’s your duty to do whatever you can to protect your soldiers,” Alon Levy, a retired police officer, continued. “Eden wasn’t just a soldier; she was a commander, and she knew her duty. I feel real pride that she stood there and fought back.”

Female IDF soldiers in combat

Alon Levy was intimately involved in creating the content on the website pertaining to her daughter, as were many of the other parents and relatives of the fallen female soldiers who also contributed content about their loved ones.

“I think these stories and this website give power, strength and drive to women who want to serve [in the army], even in the roles where some say they are less suited to serve,” she said. “I think we can all learn a great deal from Eden’s story and those of the other heroines killed that day.”

Heller highlighted that while the website features only those killed in the current war, it will soon be updated to include information and data on female soldiers who fell during previous wars and events.

In total, she said, some 1,130 female security personnel have been killed in the line of duty since Israel’s founding in 1948.

“It’s far higher than the public realizes,” she said, adding that her hope is that the site, which was created with help from Israeli digital marketing company Dialogue, would eventually be used as a resource by schools and educational institutions to teach future generations about the role and contributions of women in the security establishment.

“It is important that our society understands that women can take on any role in the army according to her ability and her choice,” Heller emphasized. “Women have proved themselves and are continuing to prove themselves in this war and because of this, the army and the public is beginning to change their perspectives on the issue.”

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