Thats a surprise


The girls earn their stripes in Gaza

There was a time, not so long ago, when plenty of Israelis thought of their girl soldiers as little more than "mattresses for officers". The most comely conscripts would often find themselves assigned to the staff of senior commanders where, one scandalised woman journalist reported, "rampant licentiousness" was common.

It took some years to change attitudes in what remains a fiercely macho society, but the girls in uniform are now basking in the public's approval. A study carried out after the forced evacuations of thousands of messianic Jewish settlers from Gaza in August shows that they performed more effectively than their male counterparts.

With emotions running high on both sides, 18- and 19-year-old girls straight out of school stayed calm and focused during violent confrontations with hysterical young female protestors from the ultra-religious community (who are exempt from call-up). The army said the lessons learned would be applied in the event of large evacuations of West Bank settlements.

The results of the Gaza survey conveniently overshadowed another study that wouldn't have reassured parents concerned for the welfare of daughters bound for the army. It found that over a period of six years, there had been a 16 per cent rise in the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies among conscripts.

According to military insiders, all new female conscripts are now warned during basic training that the army will only agree to provide one abortion during their period of service. If it's any comfort to the top brass, in well over half of 6,000 cases the girls chose to have a termination and remain in uniform

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