Six years ago, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who is no stranger to controversy, made headlines for lambasting the Israel Defense Forces over its continued mandatory draft of women.
Levinstein, who founded Israel’s first religious pre-military academy, said at the time that women generally lower the IDF’s standards — an argument often used when debating the role of female soldiers in combat.
The rabbi wasn’t the only public figure to make similar comments over the years. But the conduct of female troops in the face of the Hamas onslaught on October 7 has put this contentious debate to rest.
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi acknowledged this when he met with female tank crews recently and told them: “As you know, there has been a debate in Israel in recent years if women should be in combat units. I say to you: Sometimes you must speak a lot to explain something.
“But I think that in this case we got an answer with no words, an answer of action and fighting,” he said.
There is still no definitive number of female Israeli soldiers killed since the start of the war, with many considered missing and feared kidnapped by Hamas. But the stories of heroism exhibited by female troops on October 7 continue to reverberate through Israel, two months later.
Sgt. Eden Alon Levy, Cpt. Or Moses, Lt. Eder Ben-Simon
The three Home Front Command soldiers all served at the Bahad 4 army base near the community of Zikim, which has a maritime border with Gaza. The base is used to train new IDF recruits.
On October 7, an eight-strong Hamas naval fleet was sent toward Zikim Beach as part of a larger attack on Israel. The Israeli Navy patrol destroyed four of the boats, but another four infiltrated the maritime border. The terrorists stormed the nearby Bahad 4 base shortly after landing on the beach.
Most of the soldiers on the base were new recruits. The few seasoned officers who were there battled the terrorists for hours.
They eventually managed to fend off the Hamas men, saving over 90 recruits. Six officers and one new recruit were killed in the battle for Bahad 4. Three of the officers were women — Sgt. Eden Alon Levy, Cpt. Or Moses, Lt. Eder Ben-Simon. Unlike other IDF bases and outposts in the area, Bahad 4 never fell. The military remained in control of the facility throughout the battle.
Levy’s sister, Shani, told Channel 12 that the story of the Bahad 4 “proves without a doubt just how much female fighters can do.”
“About 10 terrorists arrived at the base, equipped with RPGs and grenades. [The terrorists] started shooting at them. Her entire team fell with her, but they saved the recruits.”
“I’m proud of her and I hope I can be as brave as her. She’s everyone’s hero.”
Lt. Eden Nimri
The 22-year-old commander of the all-female “Sky Riders” drone unit of the Artillery Corps was stationed in an IDF outpost near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, only one kilometer (less than a mile) from the Gaza border.
When a squad of Hamas terrorists descended on the outpost on October 7, Nimri and her team — still in their pajamas — rushed to the nearby bomb shelter that had two entrances with no doors.
Nimri, who was armed, took control of one entrance while the other four soldiers who also had their guns on them protected the second entrance. There were a number of unarmed female soldiers sheltering there as well.
When terrorists began throwing grenades at the entrance being protected by Nimri, she began a fierce gun battle with the perpetrators, essentially drawing all attention to herself. This allowed the other troops to escape and survive the attack.
Prior to her military service, Nimri competed internationally as a swimmer. She essentially gave up her sporting career to join the Sky Riders, since the importance of the role did not allow her to train consistently.
She represented Israel at the 2018 European Junior Open Water Swimming Championships, the 2017 International School Sport Federation’s World Championships and the 2014 Mediterranean Cup.
The Israel Swimming Association said in a statement: “Eden was an amazing girl, a good friend, competitive, extremely hardworking, highly self-disciplined, always aiming high. Even when she joined the IDF, she would come to swim here on days off.”
Lt.-Col. Or Ben Yehuda
The commander of the Caracal Battalion, a mixed-gender infantry combat unit, received a message about a potential terrorist infiltration in the kibbutzim of Sufa and Nirim in the early hours of October 7.
Ben Yehuda quickly mobilized her battalion, stationed near the border with Egypt, and headed for a military base near Sufa.
Once there, Ben Yehuda and her team realized the base had fallen to the terrorists. The battalion engaged in a fierce, four-hour gun battle with the Hamas men until soldiers from other battalions began joining the fight. It took the troops a total of 14 hours to regain control of the base.
Ben Yehuda said her battalion eliminated over 100 terrorists, and prevented them from moving into nearby civilian communities to continue their rampage.