The Beginning, Women in the Early IDF

Years before the IDF and at its onset, women took various positions including that of nurses, weapon maintenance and even pigeon handlers for secret communication missions

Date: 07/03/2011, 5:32 PM     Author: IDF Website

"The army is the supreme symbol of duty and as long as women are not equal to men in performing this duty, they have not yet obtained true equality. If the daughters of Israel are absent from the army, then the character of the Yishuv will be distorted."

David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel

The Haganah Organization was the largest and most concentrated military organization for the Yishuv, or the communities of Jewish people living where the State of Israel would be established. The organization's goal was to protect the Jewish people in case of war, also forming the foundation for the Israel Defense Forces.

In its very principles, the Haganah stated that it was open to, "Every Jewish male or female who is prepared and trained to fulfill the obligation of national defense." Most women served as medics, communications specialists and those responsible for weapon maintenance.

In the winter of 1948, during the buildup of activity before the War of Independence, women joined combat soldiers of the Palmach (the elite fighting force of the Haganah), traveling from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem hiding weapons under their clothes. The Palmach (thirty percent of which was women) trained nine female platoon commanders along with other female squad commanders.

Years before joining the IAF's Flight School became a symbol of the struggle for equal rights, in May of 1940, Rachel Markovski received her pilot's license. She was the first female pilot.

The First Days

Less than two weeks after Israel's declaration as an independent state on May 14th, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion officially set up the IDF as the country's defense army. On August 18th, 1948, mandatory conscription for single and married women without children (born between the years 1920-1930) began.

Women served in many positions including nurses, signal operators, drivers, clerks, cooks and more. The Women's Corps, under which all women served, was responsible for taking care of women soldiers' needs and for their training and integration into different IDF units. The Women's Corps also sent young women soldiers to be teachers in developing areas and immigrant neighborhoods of Israel.

Special Positions and Pioneers

In the first days of the IDF, ten women were drafted to serve in a unique position (one they had served in for several years before). Communication was a key component of success for the burgeoning Israeli army. These women were to be pigeon handlers in the postal pigeon unit. They would be the authority in anything pertaining to caring for the pigeons, including training and sending them off on their missions to deliver messages.

Just before, in the year 1945, a slightly larger group of women was assembled for this purpose, at the time a highly secretive position. The women would train the pigeons for approximately three months, at the end of which the pigeons would serve as a means of communication with besieged settlements. As the IDF was founded, some of these women were picked to continue serving in this position, continuing ever after their mandatory service was over as reserve soldiers.

Like the first female pilot, another pioneer was Hava Inbar, a lawyer, appointed judge of the military court in Haifa in September of 1969. She was the first female military judge in the world.

"I do not know if I want to be a military judge my whole life," she said in an interview, "but I am glad that I was appointed. It proves that the IDF leaves almost all doors open for its female soldiers."