Book review: A snapshot of bravery

Today, Israel is a strong, self-sustaining and innovative country. Men and women, girls and boys have built this little country, together.

By D. LERNER-RUBIN
May 29, 2019 21:13
2 minute read.
Book review: A snapshot of bravery

A SELECTION of photos of women in the IDF from inside ‘Women on the Front Lines.’. (photo credit: DEBBIE ZIMELMAN)

Tiny Israel has become many things to many people in modern history. In 1948, it was a sandy, seemingly unviable plot of land hungry for the cultivation and renewal of a people in dire need of a home of their own. A potentially safe home. Today, Israel is a strong, self-sustaining and innovative country. Men and women, girls and boys have built this little country, together. And none of it would exist without being constantly defended and guarded.

While men have traditionally been the defenders and guardians, circumstances sometimes require traditions to bend, or even break. Women have had active roles in Israel’s defense since, well, since Devorah led the armies of the tribes of Israel against Sisero.

Women in combat had been shunned for decades until a determined young woman, Alice Miller, challenged the military establishment, resulting in the 2000 Supreme Court equality amendment to the Military Service Law that stated: “The right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men.” The Caracal mixed-gender infantry battalion was formed that same year; the first mixed-gender battalion in the IDF.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but a photo-documentary book is surely the highest form of admiration. This book, Women on the Front Lines: Inside the Combat Units of the Israeli Army by photographer Debbie Zimelman – is full of admiration and appreciation for the young females serving in IDF combat units.

Each time I type the word “young” I am tempted to delete it, but these soldiers are, well, very young, many just 18 years old. Their lives are ahead of them, and they choose to “eat dirt,” sleep in sand, not bathe and generally forgo small and great comforts for the opportunity to serve their country and fellow citizens in the roughest, toughest possible way.

A SELECTION of photos of women in the IDF from inside ‘Women on the Front Lines.’ (Credit: DEBBIE ZIMELMAN)

Zimelman’s photographs are lovely – disclosing the comradery, challenges, triumphs and pride these soldiers share. Peppered throughout the photos are quotes that let the reader/viewer peek into thoughts and psyches.

“My partner was exempt from carrying the backpack because she had knee problems. I carried it the whole time. She cried all night because she didn’t succeed in the exercise. But I carried the backpack. Those were two tough days. I was ready to kill her.” Truth!

Quotes reveal what the photographer could not, as the IDF restricted what Zimelman was allowed to capture with her lenses. That aspect is disappointing, leaving the photos somewhat sanitized and giving more importance to the troop’s words. Those quotes get a little grit in your mouth, which is good.

Zimelman has been actively photographing in Israel for more than 25 years, and has won many local and international awards. She has a special interest in the lives of women in extraordinary situations. This book, which is both inspired and inspiring, certainly adds to her body of work.


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