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CHEN: Women's Corps of the Israel Defense Forces

by Alice Shalvi

Prior to the establishment of the State in 1948, women played a vital role in the underground struggle for independence, participating in signals and combat roles in the Haganah, Palmah, Irgun Zeva’i Le’ummi and Lehi.

In 1948, following discussions as to whether women should be integrated into men’s units or whether separate battalions of women should be formed, which would serve in the brigade while remaining independent of it, the second option was chosen. Thus the Women’s Corps (“CHEN”—Hel Nashim) was founded on May 16, 1948. Within a year, however, the Women’s Corps was restructured and servicewomen were dispersed throughout various units. Thereafter, they came under the direct command of the commander of the unit to which they were assigned, the Women’s Corps constituting a professional support system for women in the IDF and a parallel administration to the command system.

Though women were able to serve in support and even combat support roles, they were prohibited from engaging in actual combat until 1995, when a Supreme Court ruling abolished this limitation. Over the years, the number of military occupational specialties open to women has expanded to include virtually every area.

STRUCTURE AND OBJECTIVES

Recognizing the uniqueness of women’s service, the IDF established the Women’s Corps as a parallel administrative system to the command system. Its main tasks were to formulate policy relating to the service of female recruits, to advise commanders on the issue of women’s service, and to command the Women’s Corps units. Its objectives were:

  • To help realize the potential of women in the IDF in accordance with the needs of the IDF and policies of General Staff.
  • To advise commanders and servicewomen on specific matters pertaining to the military issues of female soldiers.
  • To be responsible for the instruction and training of female recruits, NCOs and officers.

    The Women’s Corps was headed by a Brigadier General who had under her command professional Women’s Corps officers and NCOs.

    This network performed a large number of functions ranging from advising at the General Staff level, to handling matters of individual servicewomen at the personal level, establishing guiding principles for the service of female soldiers, professional training, terms of service, integration of various professions and duties, intersex tension, and women’s health issues.

    On August 1, 2001, the existing Women’s Corps was incorporated into the General Staff, rather than acting as a separate unit. The commander of the Corps now serves as Advisor on Women’s Issues to the Chief of Staff.

     

    COMMANDING OFFICERS OF THE WOMEN’S CORPS

    From 1948 to 1983, the OC Women’s Corps held the rank of colonel. Amira Dotan was the first to be promoted to Brigadier General. The first five women to serve as OC Women’s Corps had all served during World War II in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British army.

    Their ranks and dates of office are listed below. There are also individual entries.

    The following were the Officers Commanding the Chen since its inception:

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Mina Ben-Zvi 1947–1949 (*)

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Shoshana Werner 1949–1952 (*)

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Shoshana Gershonowitz 1952–1959 (*)

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Dinah Werth 1959–1964 (*)

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Stella Levy 1964–1970 (*)

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Devorah Tomer 1970–1973 (**)

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Ruth Muskal 1973–1975

    Aluf Mishne (Col.) Dalia Raz 1975–1982

    Tat Aluf (Brig. Gen.) Amira Dotan 1982–1987 (***)

    Tat Aluf (Brig. Gen.) Hedva Almog 1987–1991

    Tat Aluf (Brig. Gen.) Yehudith Ben-Nathan 1991–1994

    Tat Aluf (Brig. Gen.) Israela Oron 1994–1997

    Tat Aluf (Brig. Gen.) Orit Adato 1997–2000

    Tat Aluf (Brig. Gen.) Suzy Yogev 2000–2003

    (*) Deceased; (**) The first non-ATS officer; (***) The first brigadier general

     

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    How to cite this page

    Shalvi, Alice. "CHEN: Women's Corps of the Israel Defense Forces." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 28, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/chen-womens-corps-of-israel-defense-forces>.

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