Paratroopers in training
Paratroopers in trainingIDF Spokesman

Last week the Israeli public was force-fed the affair of the hesder soldiers who ostensibly turned their heads so as not to gaze at a female parachutist instructor as she demonstrated fieldcraft. The affair received quite a few headlines, angry reactions in the media, political, and public spheres.

The IDF Spokesman also made a point of issuing a response critical of the soldiers, but Hela Asher, sister of one of the soldiers who was part of the incident, tells a completely different story.

At the beginning of the story, Asher tells about her brother, one of the paratroopers who was present at the event, who signed on for service of at least three years, with the aim of continuing to serve beyond that. The chain of events she heard directly from him:

"The first day when they arrived there was a female instructor, so they delicately asked if there was a possibility that there could be a male instructor. We're talking about a hundred and fifty guys in the hesder program. The answer was positive and a male instructor arrived. On the second day a female instructor arrived again and again they asked delicately if there was a possibility that there could be a male instructor and apparently she objected strongly. Parenthetically, I can say that I understand her.

"The commander who was there, who's not their direct commander, came and demanded that they stand in threes in a certain way that was later interpreted as if they were standing with their backs to her. He also mocked them and humiliated them in a way that if it were 80 years ago it would have been considered anti-Semitism. That's my opinion.

"He called them deviants and little babies who can't look at a woman," says Hela, who also tells about her own position: "I'm a personal trainer, and in my clinic I talk to them about the complex worldviews. There isn't one side and one truth. In the female soldier's mother's posts - and I deliberately don't call her Mrs. Margalit because it has nothing to do with it - it's a distortion of the facts. Democracy doesn't work for just one side.

"In my opinion, what the soldier's mother did was only to add hatred and apparently it worked for her," she adds, and when asked about what led her to believe this, she bases her answer on "exclusion of women", but she doesn't consider conducting the struggle proper in any situation and at every time: "I only say my personal opinion, as a secular feminist woman, is indeed an issue with the exclusion of women, and this issue must be raised on the public agenda, but not at any price. We need to know how to choose the struggles we choose to fight.

"The second thing that arises from people's reactions is about the hesder arrangement, but in general we're witness to a situation where everyone who wears a kippah is considered guilty in some way. There's hatred of the religious going on here. It's something I see."

In a post she wrote following her brother's remarks, Hela said that in a conversation with the female instructor, to whom the hesder soldiers sought to apologize if she was hurt by the incident, she found it appropriate to apologize to them and even remarked that it was her parents' love of causing a media storm that precipitated the story's proliferation.

"The soldiers spoke to her and wanted to explain to her what happened and why they stood that way and apologize if she was hurt, but she said that she apologized and the one making the mess in the media is her parents and not her. I think that means something too.

"In the post I published, I managed to show that there's another side here and the facts aren't like what she says. None of the soldiers turned away because she is a woman or because they can't resist temptation."

On reactions she received since publishing her post, Asher says they are divided, and alongside support she also draws shrapnel: "I expected that I'd get ricochets from many of my friends and colleagues, but I remind them that feminism is equality for everyone, even for soldiers. It's impossible to portray every legitimate request in a negative light.

"It's also important to remember the soldiers didn't ask anything against the female soldier but rather to maintain their faith. You have to understand they weren't being 'anti-', but expressing a desire to keep their faith. When everyone understands the complexity of the matter it can change the perception of many people."