IDF coed unit vows to protect both Jews and Arabs in the West Bank

AS A HOME FRONT COMMAND unit, the Ram Battalion is a mixed unit. Lt.-Col. Oz Gino said that around 55-60% of it is women, and the rest are men.

Ram battalion soldier (photo credit: IDF)
Ram battalion soldier
(photo credit: IDF)
The Ram Battalion is a unit meant to participate in search-and-rescue operations after missile attacks, earthquakes or other natural disasters. But for the last few months it has been stationed near Yakir, a settlement in Samaria, combating another enemy that is difficult to identify.
The area it now patrols is home to a third of Judea and Samaria’s Jewish settlers, from the security barrier near the settlement of Elkana to the city of Ariel. It is also home to a number of densely populated Palestinian villages and towns, including Salfit, near Ramallah; Deir Istya, near Nablus; Karawat Bani Hassan, near Nablus; and El-Khares, near Yakir.
Unlike other fronts, such as the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where the enemy – Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah – is clearly identifiable, targets in the West Bank are often unknown.
“The main weapons that are used against us and against civilians are knives and cars that are used for ramming attacks,” OC Ram Battalion Lt.-Col. Oz Gino told The Jerusalem Post.
The Ram Battalion has been stationed near the West Bank settlement of Yakir (Photos: IDF)The Ram Battalion has been stationed near the West Bank settlement of Yakir (Photos: IDF)
It is also harder to predict the motive for potential attacks; some could be perpetrated by a teenager who just had a fight with his father or teacher and uses the soldier as the target of his frustration.
Daily friction between the Israeli and Palestinian residents also contributes to tension and conflict. Gino said his main goal is “to maintain a normal routine life for both the Palestinian residents and the Jewish residents.”
Being a battalion commander “taught me how to overcome these conflicts,” he said. “At the end of the day, my mission is that neither Arab residents nor Jewish residents will be hurt.”
In Gino’s area there are three main roads: Route 5, which crosses Samaria, and two smaller roads that lead to Jewish communities.
The battalion’s soldiers are posted around junctions on the roads, in watchtowers and guard posts, and routinely patrol the area.
One of the main elements they emphasize is deterrence, Gino said.
“I want my soldiers to constantly be on the move,” he said. “I want them to avoid becoming targets for terrorists. To do so, I tell them that while they are posted at the junctions, for example, they should always be in touch with the people passing by, showing them that they are on alert.”
The main junction the battalion is defending, Gitai Avissar junction on Route 5, serves as a transportation hub for both Palestinians and Jewish residents. The Palestinians have a shared taxi station just off the main road, and the Israeli companies use the bus stops.
This kind of separation is called “fabric of life,” in which the different societies use different infrastructures, Gino said.
However, his soldiers assist people when needed, no matter who they are, he said, adding: “It often happens here when we provide first aid after car accidents. It happens with Palestinian residents as much as it happens with Jewish ones.”
“I am the biggest believer in this platform of mixing the gender in combat units.”“I am the biggest believer in this platform of mixing the gender in combat units.”
The Ram Battalion, which is part of Home Front Command, is also unique: It is coed, and 55% to 60% of its combat-trained troops are female.
Last month, a female combat soldier helped prevent a terrorist stabbing at Gitai Avissar junction. The attacker approached Cpl. Lian Harush, a lone soldier originally from the United Kingdom, and her commander and pulled out a knife. Harush pushed the attacker away with her gun. She and her commander were honored last week by President Reuven Rivlin.
Integrating women into combat battalions is not new for Gino. He previously served as an officer in the Caracal Battalion, one of the first coed combat units stationed along Israel’s border with Egypt.
“I am the biggest believer in this platform of mixing the genders in combat units,” Gino said. “I think that in this kind of platform, members of both genders fulfill themselves in the way they want to.
“Cognitively, the female combat soldiers are quicker and sharper than men. They are intelligent and have the ability to understand the space around them and to make a quick analysis of the situation. I feel like every ordinary female combat warrior is an officer.”
While the infrastructures of the unit are adjusted to the service of both genders – such as separate bathrooms and showers, a designated sleeping area and other privacy issues – there are no adjustments when it comes to operational activities, Gino said.
“One hundred percent of the missions are handled by 100% of the combat soldiers, both men and women,” he said. “There are no tasks for men or tasks for women.”