When Cpl. Eleanor Joseph, the first female Arab combat soldier in the IDF speak of Israel, she says “This will always be my home”. During moments of difficulty she would remember, “there was a Katyusha [rocket] that fell near my house and also hurt Arabs. If someone would tell me that serving in the IDF means killing Arabs, I remind them that Arabs also kill Arabs.” Eleanor 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”.
“Look at the beret,” says Eleanor, smiling from ear to ear, showing off the bright green beret that she earned after completing the trek which is part of her combat training in the Karakal Battalion. Her excitement is accompanied by a new historical precedent, since Elinor is the first Arab female combat soldier in IDF history.
Cpl. Eleanor Joseph was born and raised in an integrated neighborhood of Jews and Arabs in Haifa, but attended a school in which all her classmates were Arab. She later moved to Wadi Nisnas, an Arab neighborhood where she currently lives. Despite the fact that she would always wear her father’s IDF dog-tag around her neck from when he served in the Paratrooper’s Unit, she never thought she would enlist. “I wanted to go abroad to study medicine and never come back,” she said. To her father it was clear that she would enlist in the IDF, as most citizens in Israel do. This was something that worried her very much. “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.”
Despite their opposition, she decided to move forward and enlist. She explained her motive: “I decided to go head-to-head, 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.” At the end of the day, she says she realized it was the right thing to do, “With time, when you do things from the heart, you begin to understand their importance.”
“I might as well go the whole way”
Unlike most teenagers in Israel, Eleanor did not undergo any kind of special preparations for her recruitment. Other than listening to some of her father’s combat stories and speaking to an IDF officer who helps minorities with enlistment, she didn’t know what she was getting herself into. She came to the Reception and Placement Base, known in IDF slang as the Bakum, and requested to be a combat medic because she decided, “If I enlist, I might as well go the whole way. I thought my father would absolve me from it, but it didn’t happen.” Despite her will to be in combat service, the response to Eleanor was otherwise. “The placement officer laughed in my face and said I was too delicate. I started to cry,” she remembers.
After fighting to receive a high enough medical categorization in order to be placed in a combat position, and following many attempts to persuade the placement officer, Elinor was informed she would be a combat soldier. She remembers that upon arrival to the Reception and Placement Base, “It was the first time I saw my father cry. But then they told me I wouldn’t be a combat soldier, so I cried again.” She says she came to Basic Training not understanding what was going on around her, “I had no preparation so I really didn’t understand what it meant to stand at attention, or to salute my commander or even stand in formation.” Despite initial shock and disappointment that she wouldn’t be in a combat unit, she decided to take a positive perspective and be the best soldier that she could be. “I didn’t want to disappoint those that supported me. I decided that if I am volunteering, I would need to prove myself and be an exemplary soldier, and I succeeded. In the end, I ended up enjoying it."....
Right now, after finishing her training, she says wholeheartedly that she does not regret any of her choices. “I sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had studied abroad as planned, but I understand that I was not as experienced and responsible then as I am now. 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”. She also feels satisfied from the respect she gained from the others. “Although everybody is surprised in the beginning I have always been respected, not just me but also my customs and my religion. Nobody ever disturbed me. I feel a lot of serenity and support and somebody even opened a group about me on Facebook. My parents also are very proud of me, maybe a little bit too much.” ....
Eleanor 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. “At the end of the day, this will always be my home too”, she says before expressing her thought that despite the conflict and difficulties, the hope for peace still exists. “I still believe that peace will come and faith creates reality”.