Meet the women of the IDF who are tipping the scales of the old boys club

Three senior female officers in the Home Front Command’s Medical Department spoke to the ‘Post.’

Lt.-Col. Merav Shavi-Sultan (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Lt.-Col. Merav Shavi-Sultan
Israel’s army was the first in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women in 1949, but almost seven decades later it’s still an old boy’s club.
But some women are making great strides in IDF, especially the women of the Home Front Command’s Medical Department under the command of Col. Dr. Olga Polyakov, chief surgeon of the Home Front Command.
As a record number of women continue to draft into combat units in the IDF, their preferred combat unit is the Home Front Command, which according to military figures had 30% of the overall available female combat personnel requesting the unit. Border police came in second, with 20% of overall demand.
Polyakov, originally from Ukraine, drafted into the IDF in 2002 and was promoted to her current position as the top medical officer for the Home Front Command last year. The 45-year-old mother of two girls has served in various leading roles in the army, but as the leading officer, she is responsible for hundreds of soldiers.
The Home Front Command’s Medical Department is a unique department which has two roles. On the one hand, it is responsible for providing medical treatment to all troops in the command, while on the other hand, it is responsible for preparing all civilian medical centers in the country for emergency scenarios like war.
When The Jerusalem Post met with Polyakov in September, she was preparing several large-scale exercises, including an intensive drill simulating a mass casualty chemical event at Assuta Ashdod Medical Center, Israel’s latest public hospital.
Lt.-Col. Merav Shavi-Sultan, head of the Hospital Preparations Department in the Home Front Command, organized the drill, which tested how effectively the new hospital transitions from routine operations into a mass casualty mode and how effective their triage and treatment plan is.
“Today, I want to make sure that all hospitals are ready. To make sure that in regular days that the hospitals are prepared for any incident,” Shavi-Sultan told the Post in early October ahead the drill.
Shavi-Sultan told the Post that when she enlisted, she wasn’t sure what her future held, but over the years she has come to realize that it was the best choice.
“[I] had more in me than I thought I had,” she said. “I [learned] that I had the ability to influence, and to change. There is nothing you can’t do. If you give yourself a target you are able to get there. The army gives you the chance to do what you want to do, and supports you. No one will try to stop you. There are no words such as ‘no’ as long as you can put your mind to it.”
With only women in the Home Front Command’s Medical Division, “it shows that there is absolutely no difference between men and women,” Shavi-Sultan said. “We are all women and you can see how many people are proud of that and how women are breaking through the glass ceiling.”
Like Polyakov and Shavi-Sultan, 32-year-old Maj. Zohar Dadon is operations officer in the Home Front Command Medical Department and also the first woman to hold her position.
“We are special because we are all women in our division,” Dadon told the Post, adding that Polyakov is a major role model for soldiers.
“I really admire her. She’s doing things that other women haven’t done. She’s held so many positions and is the first woman to hold this rank,” she said.
Dadon, who drafted into the IDF in 2004, said she knew she wanted to be an officer since she was a teenager, to be a role model for the soldiers under her command.
“You have dilemmas along the way, to get out and do something else. But I always knew what I wanted, I mean I had a few times that I wanted to leave the army and be a lawyer but I chose to stay in the army,” she said.
“I am like the parents of my soldiers, I am responsible for them. Whenever my soldiers are discharged, they tell me how strong and how powerful a woman I am,” Dadon added.
But serving in a senior military position as a divorced mother of two daughters aged five and half and six and a half, “is a challenge. I’m not like any other mother. I know it, I feel it.”
With her ex-husband also serving in the IDF, her children “don’t know anything else,” she said, adding that it gives them good role models who serve their countries.
“They were born to army parents, they see the army 24/7 around them,” Dadon said. “But it’s good for them to see their parents serving their country and give themselves to something really important. But I have to pay a personal price. I can’t pick up my children from pre-school but I give them something else.”