This film is addressing the issue of women’s role and status in society within the most conservative male club: the ARMY. It is a world wide problem but in Israel since there is a compulsory military service for men and women it becomes sharper.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) is a mirror of Israeli society. In recent years the IDF started to include women in positions that were previously the sole domain of male soldiers. The Success of the women in these positions resulted in the opening of a course for women officers.
It is a prestigious and difficult course for a new generation of energetic, beautiful and motivated women. The cadets must contend with the desire to be the equals of men, and deal with significant questions: their identity, in their own eyes and in those of society; femininity and the military; battle readiness and command.
This is the story of company Jasmine, which focuses upon five cadets: Tal, Efrat, Yafit, Noa and Sivan and their commanding officer, Rotem. These young women represent the various faces of Israel’s female population.
The film accompanies the cadets throughout their 17-week course on exercise, orientation, on the shooting range; command exercises and shows how these women must cope with high-pressure within a competitive framework.
It explores their need to support and assist each other, accept discipline and authority, face fears of being demoted along with their moments of relaxation and on leave.
Documentary filmmaker Yael Katzir, herself a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces, is the first woman and the first filmmaker to receive permission by the Israeli military to film women officer cadets in training. All the women who worked on the production and post – production of this film have served in the IDF.
I have done this film with the blood of my heart, not because I believe in “militarism” but because I wanted to document what dilemmas and choices young women in my country are faced with at the age of 18.
When the talented Jewish kids of my cousin’s who are US citizens, were agonizing over the big “Decisions” which college to enter or what a career to peruse, in Israel young people are faced with different survival issues those of life and death, of losing a friend with whom they went to kindergarten, of taking responsibility over people younger from only in one or two year. For women all this is more complex.
I had the unique opportunity to serve as an officer in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in 1960-2. At that time, the army of the new state of Israel, and especially the women’s corps were training in the left over British camps from the Mandatory period. Moreover the standards and values of the IDF were strongly influenced by those of the British Army. Women were “Auxiliary Power” so only a handful of women had access to officers course and the chance to do more than serve coffee to male officers, or secretarial jobs. Before entering officers’ school, everybody warned me that I would lose my femininity for a bit of authority. This scared the hell out of me and yet I completed the course, and surprisingly nothing happened to my womanhood. I learned to cope with the burden of taking responsibility for others. Training women recruits then made me apprehend a lot about my own gender.
Becoming a woman officer in the IDF at that time reflected my own self-image, which I continue to carry through my life as an Israeli citizen, wife, mother, college professor and filmmaker. On reflection, it was perhaps the most important and private decision of my life.
Thirty years later I became the first woman and the first filmmaker to receive permission by the Israeli military to film women officer cadets in training. It was a dream come true!
COMPANY JASMINE is the story of women cadets who have already completed at least one year of military service. All of the cadets had trained and instructed male soldiers in the use of tanks, heavy artillery, missiles and explosives before entering officers’ school. The mere fact that women in the Israeli army are now instructors and trainers proves that times are changing.
Shot during the entire 18-week course in the spring of 1998, the film focuses on five of the forty cadets. Filmed during all aspects of their course – from their introduction to the company commander, to their graduation ceremony – the documentary captures the women cadets in physical training; on the shooting range; during command exercises; in the classroom; in their barracks; and in moments of relaxation. The film is also an insight into the reality of how these cadets learn to cope with pressure, family situations, competition between themselves along with learning how to work together and the need for team support and assistance.
I was also granted permission by each of the cadets to film them with their family during weekend leave. This was a great privilege and I am grateful to each of the cadets and their family members for allowing us the rare opportunity to film them in their homes and sharing their thoughts and lives with us.
The closeness with the young women cadets enhanced my understanding on various levels. First, I discovered a new generation of women who are strongly connected to their gender. Second, I encountered a group of young women who defined for themselves what they want. Their ideological identity was more general. Israel’s world image, in which I grew up, portraying women as equal to men does not really exist. I realized in recent years that the truth has exposed the fantasy-myth of equality. Economically, socially, politically and morally, women have a long way to go before they’ll be equal citizens.
It was refreshing to find out that the young women of contemporary Israel are beginning to chip away a male dominance in perhaps the most sacred cow of them all – the military.
For generations members of the military boys club have reaped the benefits of being officers in the Israel Defense Forces. A stepping-stone for the future, they are assured financially rewarding positions of authority in politics and business – regardless of the capability.
With a spirit of independence and strong determination, the cadets I met are looking for more rewarding positions during their mandatory two year military service. They also hope that their status as officers in the IDF will lead to more lucrative and meaningful careers in civilian life, after they complete their military service.
To become an officer in today’s Israeli army offers these young women an opportunity to prove that they can accomplish what the male establishment – realization of their own self worth, has frowned upon. Moreover the final message comes through the company commander Rotem Gabay, she says that for her to have a group of people where she has the say that is what counts” In other words she states the women’s needs to have their voice heard, and to have a meaningful influence in their work and social environment.