Cpl. Elinor Joseph, a Christian Arab from Haifa, has completed an important stage of her combat training in the IDF’s Karakal Battalion – notable in that she is the first Arab female combat soldier in IDF history.
Having grown up in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood, she attended an Arab school and later to moved to an all-Arab neighborhood. Her father served in the IDF Paratroopers Unit, but she never thought she would enlist. “I wanted to go abroad to study medicine and never come back,” she told the IDF Spokesman’s Unit. She said that her father expected her to enlist in the army, but “I was scared to lose my friends because they objected to it. They told me they wouldn’t speak to me. I was left alone.”
Ultimately, despite their opposition, she decided to enlist. “I decided to go head-to-head,” she said, “to check who my true friends are, to do something in life that I have never done before. I understood that it was most important to defend my friends, family, and country. I was born here…. With time, when you do things from the heart, you begin to understand their importance.”
She originally thought she might like to be a combat medic, but “the placement officer laughed in my face and said I was too delicate. I started to cry.” She fought to receive a high enough medical categorization for combat placement, but it still took many months before she actually received a combat position.
“Arabs Also Kill Arabs”
After her basic training, Elinor took a medic’s training course, in which she was selected as the outstanding soldier of the course. She was assigned to a military police post at the Kalkilya crossing, east of Kfar Saba. “I enjoyed it there [and] liked the people,” she recalls, though she sorely felt the dilemma of serving at a border crossing. During moments of difficulty and misgiving, she now says, “I would remember that a Katyusha [fired by Hizbullah] fell near my house and also hurt Arabs. If someone tells me that serving in the IDF means killing Arabs, I remind them that Arabs also kill Arabs.”
“I treated everyone at the checkpoints in the same way, because we are all human. For this reason, no one reacted to me in a negative manner, and to tell the truth, that surprised me,” she said. “People knew I was there and that I wouldn’t hold my tongue if need be, so they had a constant reminder to treat the Palestinians well. But really, their treatment was always full of respect.” ?
Soon after, she tried out for a combat position in the Karakal Battalion – and was accepted, despite her commander’s desire that she remain in the Border Guard. “At first, I missed being in the military police,” she says now. “The relations with people there were very different, because I knew them not only personally, but also from a medical standpoint, creating a very intimate connection with people. But then I realized I was now in a new place. I got to know people little by little, and now I really love them all.”
Part of the Jewish State
Within the framework of her military service in general and her combat training in particular, Elinor noticed the emphasis that was always placed on the country’s Jewish-ethical identity, both in specific situations and in the general message passed over to the soldiers. It did not deter her, she says. “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.”
Right now, after finishing her combat training, she says wholeheartedly that she has no regrets: “It is a satisfaction to complete challenging things. I feel that in the army I matured a lot and became more responsible than I used to be… I have always been respected – not just me, but also my customs and my religion… My parents also are very proud of me, maybe a little bit too much.”
On the other hand, “I know that some parents of young men are not so enthusiastic if they go out with me because of my military service, probably because of the fact that I am a combat soldier. There were also people who read things about me and reacted in a very hurtful manner, but I have learned not to pay attention to it. I believe in what I am doing.”
Elinor belives that being a combat soldier means that she is granting all Israeli citizens, including Israeli-Arabs like her parents, a better and quieter life. “I still believe that peace will come, and faith creates reality,” she says.
In an interview with Israeli newspaper Maariv, Eleanor reminiceses about the first time she got on the bus that would take her to her military training base.
The driver and people on the bus heard her heavy accent and said: “Are you from South America?” I said: “No.” They said: “You’re a new immigrant.” I said “Absolutely not. I’m not new and I’m not an immigrant.” “Then what are you?” They asked. I said: “Arab.” “Druze?” “No, just Arab.” “Arab-Arab?” They were shocked.
The reporter asks her if she sings the Israeli anthem: “Yes, I learned it in training. My friends taught me the words, before I didn’t know them. It was hard at first to sing the words ‘a Jewish soul still yearns,’ but I understand it. I’m in an army of Jews, this is their hope. I’m not going to demand them to change it just because I’m here and an Arab.”