Israel once prided itself on being a progressive, egalitarian society. Even if, upon examination, we discover that this was never the case insofar as women were concerned, we may well find a certain pattern characteristic of transition from a national movement to statehood.1 In the pre-state struggle there was at least an ideology of gender equality, and, in certain circumstances, women did indeed assume roles more or less equal to those of men. Once statehood was achieved, however, more traditional nonns dominated the national psyche even when the rhetoric and some fonns of behavior digressed from these nonns. Women worked outside the home, entered politics, served in the anny, but they were generally confined to "female professions," women's organizations, and subordinate tasks. Leadership, influence, and dominance in virtually every area remained, indeed remains to this day, finnly in the hands of men.
This is not to say that no progress has been made. The feminist move¬ment in Israel, which has gained significant momentum over the past twenty years, has greatly expanded with many component parts, and it has succeeded both in raising women's consciousness (if not that of the whole society) and in gaining breakthroughs in certain professions, in the area of legislation, and in some aspects of life. Legal, medical, and financial insti¬tutions have far more women than in the past; there are laws on the books which, at least in theory, protect women from sexual harassment and from violence in the family (to some degree) and call for affirmative action in one, albeit limited, sphere (directorates of state-owned companies). There is at least a form of parental (rather than purely maternity) leave, and a broad network of (partially subsidized) day-care facilities.

Elimina ting the Myth

Nonetheless, the barriers to equality for women in Israel go beyond those confronting women in most developed countries. The fairly universal bar¬riers which stem from stereotyping, sexist education (including the media, advertising, and the arts), plus the socialization of both boys and girls to adapt to patriarchal norms of behavior, are supplemented and fortified in Israel by other factors and patriarchal institutions.
One such factor, the myth that there is already gender equality, may be diminishing. For many years, Israeli women remained oblivious to the sta¬tus of women, either believing the egalitarian rhetoric of socialist Zionism even when their own lives bore few signs of the proclaimed equality, or blindly accepting their subordination and exploitation as part of the natur¬al order of things. If women were unaware of the injustice of their situa¬tion, it was no wonder men were entirely indifferent, even hostile to the whole issue. But Israeli society on the whole, and women in particular, have been steadily gaining a greater awareness of the problems and issues involved. This is a far cry from a solution, but elimination of the myth of equality is a sine qua non for societal change.

Organized Religion against Equality

The second barrier is nowhere near elimination; that is the barrier posed by the religious establishment in Israel, which is both extraordinarily back¬ward and extraordinarily powerful. Because of the electoral (coalition) sys¬tem in Israel, the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (fundamentalist) religious circles - through their small political parties - have the power to tip the scales in favor of one or other of the major political parties. Thus they have succeeded in blackmailing virtually every governing coalition in the coun¬try to maintain religious control over vital aspects of citizens' rights.
For example, in the Knesset before the 1992 elections, Rabbi Feldman of the ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Yisrael, chair of one of the most important com¬mittees in the Knesset, the Finance Committee, proclaimed that not only should women not be in public life, they should not even have the right to vote. Such political power in the hands of a group which firmly believes a woman's place is, exclusively, in the home, cannot but create obstacles to equality.

The Military

The third, no less formidable and still more central barrier is the absence of peace. So long as Israel is in a state of war, the military - and along with it the values and norms of the military - will remain central to Israeli society. All, or almost all, Jewish citizens pass through this institution, experiencing there what amounts to the last stage of socialization as they emerge from adolescence into adulthood. And the men continue to serve, regularly, throughout most of their adult lives. The military is the quintessence of a patriarchal institution, reinforcing and perpetuating the stereotypical role of women as subordinate, subservient and superfluous.
In the year before the draft, the various branches of the army court the boys, competing with each other to enlist the best of the young men; but not women. The different approach is evident even in the letters sent out for the pre-daft registration of 17-year-olds. Then, it is far easier for girls to obtain an exemption from service than for boys, accounting for a 25-30 per¬cent difference in their numbers. The girls serve far less time than the boys and do virtually no reserve duty. This in itself delivers the most important message about the worth of women in comparison with men; it is ampli¬fied many times over during the period of required service both by the nature of the tasks permitted or accorded women and the attitude -and behavior - exhibited toward them.
Status in the army (any army) is determined, at one end of the spectrum, by one's relationship to combat, and, at the other, by one's relationship to serving coffee. In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), only men may serve in combat positions. This is not to say that some "prestigious" positions are not open to women, and the closer women are to actual combat positions, the higher their status - albeit after that of men. The vast majority of young women, however, are viewed by their male superiors and fellow male soldiers as generally unnecessary, at best a source of warmth and comfort for their otherwise Spartan existence.

The Male as Defender

The negative impact of the absence of peace goes beyond the influence of the military establishment itself. A country in a state of war, by necessity or custom, values the male child above the female. The male is our poten¬tial defender; he may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit; he has a special, critical, essential role to play in our society. He has "military" traits: strength, force, aggressiveness, bravery; the very traits generally associated with masculinity. And the "superior" qualities devel¬oped in the course of a military career, coupled with the status accorded the professional soldier in a country at war, provide privileged positions for the ex-military upon return to civilian life - advantages unavailable to women. Consider, for example, the recent appointment to the government of former chief-of-staff, Ehud Barak, or other former generals in the past, not to mention the "old boys network" of the army (and the reserves) which helps men in many areas of Israeli society.
At the same time, women tend to internalize the message conveyed by all this. Especially in time of war, women tend to feel guilty that they are saved from the danger and sacrifice demanded of men. They are forced back into the most traditional roles of providing solace, "care" packages and the like for their fighting men; confined to home because of the closure of schools in time of crisis, and to still further exclusion from decision-mak¬ing bodies as these bodies contract in times of war or crisis.2
In addition, there is the perhaps less insidious, but nonetheless debilitat¬ing problem characteristic of societies in a state of war, or of peoples engaged in national struggle: they have a particular set of priorities. Gender equality is not high on this list; women's issues are deemed less than secondary, cer¬tainly less urgent than the struggle at hand, and, thus, it can wait.

Women and Peace

Gender equality is not the only reason for Israeli women to wish for peace. Nor are women the only ones who seek peace. Yet the achievement of peace would certainly help to eliminate one of the main barriers to equali¬ty, thus according women an additional interest, so to speak, in peace. Women have been drawn to the peace camp, however, for many reasons, some of which do indeed derive from their particular situation as women. Perhaps women, who themselves are oppressed as a group, and are denied self-determination, freedom and power (of the type available to men), unconsciously empathize more directly with the oppressed, the occupied, the victim. Certainly psychologists find women more likely than men to sympathize with "the other," and the flood of women to the peace move¬ments during the Intifada provides some evidence of this phenomenon.
Moreover, women do not benefit from, nor do they usually buy into, the concepts of "glory of war,,,'heroism, male bonding and the like. They are more likely to see only the losses, the pain, the sorrows of war. At the same time, their mutual socialization as women has made women more likely than men to prefer compromise and negotiated solutions rather than the use or show of force. This may account for the higher percentage of women than men who were willing to have Israel negotiate with the PLO in the late 1980s, or the fact that leading Israeli and Palestinian women were able to reach mutual recognition and agreement on political compromise in the dialogue of the Jerusalem Link3 well before Oslo and the present peace process. It is not that women are unrealistic, "soft," or ignorant of the prob¬lems at hand and the complexities of security. Women hold dear the interests and security of their societies and peoples no less than do men. For the most part, though, they do have a different concept of these goals and the means of achieving them. And they have an affinity and understanding of each other which go a long way toward bringing down the wall of enmity separating Israelis and Palestinians.

1. For reasons of space, I confine myself to the issue of Jewish women in Israeli society.
2. Bar Yosef, Rivka and Oorit Padan-Eisenstark. "Role System under Stress: Sex Roles in War," Social Problems, No. 25,1977, pp. 135-45 (on the Yom Kippur War). Na'amat also conducted a study on the role of women during the Gulf War of 1991. 3. The Jerusalem Link is a women's joint venture for peace, composed of two inde¬pendent women's centers, the Israeli Bat Shalom and the Palestinian Jerusalem Center for Women. It grew out of a dialogue of Palestinian and Israeli women begun in 1989 in Brussels under the title "Women Speak Out for Peace."

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