Israel's first female Arab combat soldier

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 |  Israel Today Staff

Cpl. Elinor Joseph, a young Christian Arab woman from northern Israel, has won herself a place in a respected infantry unit, making her Israel's first ever female Arab combat soldier.

Joseph will serve as a combat medic in the Karakal Battalion, after more than a year of battling misconceptions that she was too weak for such a position.

Joseph originally did not plan to enlist in the IDF. Arab citizens of Israel are not required to enlist due to the societal difficulties that serving in the Jewish state's army can cause. But some choose to enlist anyway. Joseph's father was one of them, and she remembered the great sense of pride and accomplishment that his years as an Israeli paratrooper had given him and the whole family.

So, despite the fierce objections of her friends and many others in her local community, Joseph decided to enlist. "I believe in what I am doing," she told the IDF Spokesman's Unit. "My parents also are very proud of me, maybe a little bit too much."

Although she had always intended to be a combat soldier, the recruitment officer she first met with told Joseph she was too small and frail to be in such a unit. Upset, but not discouraged, Joseph aced a medic's course and was then deployed to one of the many checkpoints between Samaria (the so-called "West Bank") and Israel proper.

While there, Joseph earned the respect of her Jewish comrades. She also rebuffed international accusations that Palestinian Arabs are routinely abused at such checkpoints, noting that the treatment of Palestinians by the soldiers she was stationed with was "always full of respect."

After a year of proving herself at the checkpoint, Joseph applied to join Karakal and was accepted.

She said it can be surreal serving in such an intense position as an Arab in the army of the Jewish state, especially during training and briefings that so heavily emphasize Jewish morals and methods.

"I know I am part of the Jewish State's army, and therefore, when we speak about that, I listen and learn. I got used to it and I respect it, although I do not delve too much into the country’s identity. I have my own identity and I will respect that of the country."

That attitude has been mutual. Despite being "different" than most of the soldiers around her, Joseph says she has "always been respected - not just me, but also my customs and my religion."

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