Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem
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The deadly cost of boys’-club governance

After this war, will we learn to honor and value the contribution of women to the country's security, homefront, and recovery?
Women run for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Katsrin, on November 17, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Women run for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Katsrin, on November 17, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

If you watch the official announcements in the media from the government and the army, you might think it is men running this country.

The three-man war cabinet now appears weekly. The army spokesperson is a man. The education minister, tourism minister, finance minister, national security minister – all men.

But they are not succeeding in running the country. Although, more than six weeks into the war, some government departments have finally responded and have begun to tend to the needs of citizens, it is still civil society and volunteers who have held the country together and continue to do so in the face of a severely strained economy, thousands called up for military service, huge numbers of evacuees, and many thousands of traumatized citizens.

The country is only running because of the extraordinary efforts of women. They might not be in clear view to audiences of mass media, but they are certainly in view of the people who are benefitting from their resourcefulness, skillful organization and boundless generosity.

When war broke out on October 7th, the army was not ready. We now know that our soldiers on watch on the front line did announce that there was an infiltration. But they were female soldiers, young and not in combat units, and their warnings were dismissed. That should have been a lesson to the military to take women more seriously. However, our army, like our government, has decided to put all learning on hold until after the war.

Will they learn? Will they see how their dismissal of women’s advice was not just dangerous but fatal? Will they acknowledge the extraordinary heroism of hundreds of women on October 7th? Will they understand that the mother who hides and protects her children is the primary contributor to national security? Will they recognize that while the war is on, in addition to the women fighting in the IDF, they are running almost all the major volunteering initiatives that are permitting some semblance of normal life to citizens, including evacuees? Will they admit that the stay-at-home partners of those called into combat are fighting the most important battle – to keep our children safe and healthy?

This war is likely to set the country back in so many ways. We cannot allow it to be the cause of further distancing of women from political power. However, it may well do so, if history repeats itself.

After each of Israel’s wars, there has been an upsurge in support for the military – as there should be. Our soldiers defend us heroically. However, this support finds expression in highly-ranked soldiers taking the top spots in political lists. Occasionally, a very good soldier makes a very good politician. However, there is nothing to guarantee that. Indeed, the discipline and type of thinking that a soldier needs may well limit his ability to see the priorities for society in peacetime.

Be that as it may, the more significant problem is that the propensity to promote ex-soldiers with a high public profile through the political ranks means that women are disadvantaged.

In the past, we have overlooked the contribution of women and only noticed the tank commanders, the fighter pilots, the soldiers on the ground and the men at the top giving the orders. This time, we should honor and recognize the women who collected and distributed the clothes and the food and the toiletries and the paper and the toys to the evacuees. We should try to learn the names of the women who collected millions of dollars to buy medical equipment so that our hospitals could function with the new population distribution. We should honor the social workers, the psychologists and the teachers who kept the children engaged and calm. Most of them are women.

After this war is over, Israel will need to rebuild society. Israeli society needs to heal. Israelis need to listen differently to one another. We need an overabundance of empathy. We need a political discourse quite different from the one that we had until October 7th. We need to hear more women.

This post is dedicated to Vivian Silver (z”l), an inspiration whose light will keep on shining.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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