The Story of a Gay Combat Soldier

Batel (second from right) during a training exercise with her unit.
Sgt. Batel (second from left) during a training exercise with her all-female Field Intelligence unit.

Sgt. Batel, 20, always knew that one day, like all Israelis, she would draft into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A Zionist at heart, she looked forward to wearing an IDF uniform, and was excited to serve the state of Israel. At the same time, tremendous fear overwhelmed her as she wrestled with the anguish of whether or not her sexual orientation would be accepted by others during her army service.

Pre-Army Fears

Batel is a lesbian. Deciding to come out to her family and friends at home was far from easy. Fortunately for her, she was accepted with love and open arms. But still this question loomed—what would happen when Batel drafted into the IDF at 18? Would the other soldiers accept her? Or would they taunt her?

She requested to draft into the Field Intelligence unit as a combat soldier and was accepted, knowing this type of army service would entail being with completely new people 24/7. Field Intelligence soldiers must endure an intensive seven month training period. During this time, they do everything together, while also living in close quarters.

This situation scared Batel. While she would be entering a period of difficult training, just like everyone else in her unit, a much bigger challenge awaited. She recalls forcing herself to hold onto the hope that her fellow soldiers would accept her. If not, she would deal with the consequences. At the very least, she hoped, most of them would accept her.

With the help of her fierce mentality, Batel decided not to hide her identity as she began this new chapter of her life.

No More to Fear

Sgt. Batel during a training exercise.
Sgt. Batel during a training exercise with her fellow soldiers.

Soon after she drafted, her fears disappeared. She recalls that she could not have felt more accepted by everyone in the army upon drafting — soldiers and commanders alike. She is simply treated like everyone else. This means no special treatment, no harassment from others; there are no issues at all. “All my fellow soldiers can testify to this as well,” Batel insists. She adds that no one has ever talked negatively about her in regards to her sexual orientation.

After completing training, Batel went on to serve in active duty with fellow soldiers from her unit at a new base. Today during active duty, Batel continues to feel she can just be herself. “Being completely accepted by the IDF is the greatest gift I could receive,” she affirms passionately. As a result of serving in the IDF, she has become more comfortable with her sexual orientation. This includes no longer fearing that new people she meets won’t accept her.

Service in the IDF as a Positive Learning Experience

With a mandatory draft, the IDF enlists Israelis from all walks of life who then work together. As a result, IDF soldiers need to learn about, and grow to accept, a diversity of people during their service. Soldiers live together and often become a close family. Regardless of personality, sexual orientation, social class, religion, or any other differences, everyone strives to get along because they simply spend so much time together and must work together.

According to IDF law, no soldier or commander can question a colleague about their sexual orientation. However, soldiers are free to discuss the subject on their own accord.

Batel recalls a day where the status quo of acceptance in the IDF was particularly evident. A few soldiers were discussing a news article about a child who was bullied for being gay in school. As a result, a religious soldier heard the word “homophobia” for the first time. This led the soldier to become more aware of the challenges facing the LGBTQ community. Batel took this opportunity to tell the soldier that she is gay.

With Batel’s help, all of the soldiers present that day better understood the difficulties the LGBTQ community faces—among them, the assertion that sexual orientations are a choice and can be changed.

To learn more about LGBTQ rights in Israel click here.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz, with files submitted by Sgt. Batel.

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