It’s been 21 years since Alice Miller stood in front of the the Supreme Court, demanding a chance to be a part of the male-only, elite pilot course. Challenging the norms, she broke the glass ceiling for women everywhere.
Women’s legacy in the IDF (Zahal) goes all the way back to Israel’s War of Independence when a handful of women fought as pilots and led the way to Israel’s triumph. Years later, in 1951, Yael Rom became the first graduate of the IAF’s pilot course. Shortly after, due to societal concerns regarding risks to women captured by enemies, they were barred from assuming combat positions, including becoming a pilot.
In 1994, a brave young woman challenged the institution and demanded a chance to be in one of the most elite units in the IDF (Zahal). Originally from South Africa, Alice Miller emigrated to Israel with her family at the age of 6. Miller always had a passion for aviation. Following high school, she received her civilian pilot license and pursued a degree in Aerospace Engineering. At 23 years old, she sued the military for her right to enlist into the prestigious pilot’s course. In a historic vote, the Israeli Supreme Court deemed the ban on female recruits to the aviation course as unconstitutional.
When Miller gained the opportunity to tryout for the pilot’s course, she was declared unfit medically, but the decision didn’t take away from the importance of her actions. She sparked major changes both in the army and in society as a whole. Her initiative helped pave the way for many other women, like Sheri Rahat in 1998, who became an F-16 combat navigator and the first female graduate in nearly five decades. Three years later, Roni Zuckerman, the granddaughter of two leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, graduated as the first combat pilot.
Female graduates of the IAF’s 163rd flight school course
In December 2011, a record five female pilots completed the course. Since Miller’s historic appeal, 38 females have received the pilot’s wings from the IAF. This appeal tested Israel’s democracy and place in the modern world, and played a pivotal role in expanding the roles of women in the IDF (Zahal). Now, more than 90% of positions in the army are open to women. According to Brigadier General Rachel Tevet-Wiesel, Women’s Affairs Advisor to the IDF (Zahal) Chief of Staff, additional positions will be open in the years to come.