Paving the Way one Unit at a Time: Gila Klifi-Amir Forces Equality for Women in the IDF
By Laura Rolnick
Demure and feminine, one would hardly guess that Gila Klifi-Amir was the very first woman to participate in a Battalion Command Course in the IDF, as well as a Brigadier General and veteran of 30 years of military service. Gila relayed her formidable and fascinating career recently at the first FIDF women’s luncheon in Connecticut, attended by over 100 women.
Born in Tel Aviv, Gila began her basic training at age 18 and knew shortly thereafter that she wanted to serve in a command position. Her first post was on the Israeli-Lebanese border as a commander of male combat soldiers, with whom she developed a very close bond. But when war broke out in 1982, she alone was evacuated from the border and forcibly separated from her unit, simply because she was a woman. “I was completely heartbroken,” she says with deep emotion, “and I knew in my heart that would never happen again because I would do everything necessary to change it.”
Change it she did, though equal treatment for women was “not automatic” but “evolutionary,” and did not truly actualize until 2000 - 18 years later. Women in command and combat positions are now permitted to remain with their units even during times of heightened military threats, and in close proximity to Israel's borders. “I had to break a lot of glass ceilings - some which were actually were made of concrete,” Gila relays emphatically. She was the first woman to serve in several high ranking positions, and explained that as the pioneer, the IDF was "watching my every step.” She determined early on that “I needed to be not just the same as the men, but better,” and insisted on receiving the same treatment in all of her military pursuits.
Gila’s father escaped France’s draft to Vietnam and immigrated to Israel in 1952. In the face of the potential personal cost of war, he realized that he was willing to risk his life “only for Israel.” The IDF took him "from the boat to the Paratroopers" Brigade, during a time when soldiers had no say as to their placement preferences and only the IDF's needs were considered. “My father was a lone(ly) soldier until he met my mother,” Gila jokes, adding seriously that both of her parents were deeply committed to Israeli society, and preached the love of the land of Israel, which she says has made her the person she is. “We need to remember the price we [Jews] have paid and will pay, and that we do this job [protect Israel] not just for Israelis but so that Jews all over the world have a safe haven."
Her choice to become a Wellbeing Officer in the Paratroopers Brigade in 1983 was no accident - she felt a strong familial bond with this unit as a result of her father’s positive experiences as well as her brother’s service in the brigade. Even following his terrible injury, including a full body burn, her brother chose to continue his army service despite his release by the IDF.
Just prior to the end of Gila’s service in the Paratroopers Brigade, the Advisor to the Chief of Staff called her and asked that she would stay on for further military service. “At the end of the day I found myself as Brigadier General.” Gila was involved in a myriad of important missions throughout her long and active service. Along the way, she met her husband, Major General Meir Klifi-Amir, today FIDF’s National Director and CEO, whom Gila jokingly says she “held hostage” during a mission, and with whom she raised her three now young-adult children.
All three of the Klifi-Amirs’ children are currently studying for careers requiring higher education, and though it was difficult for them to be soldiers with the concomitant expectations of having such high ranking parents, Gila counseled her children to “do it their own way.” Her goal was never to pressure them into career army service despite their pedigree, but instead to give them the tools they need to succeed as good Israeli citizens, and to “fly like birds and succeed in whatever path they choose.” Currently, Gila and Meir serve are in reserves service.
Gila’s pride in her significant achievements, which impact all women now serving in the IDF, was palpable when introduced to former Lone Soldier Penina Simkovitz, a vibrant 20-year old olah (a new immigrant in Israel) raised in Boston, MA. Penina relayed the extreme respect bestowed by the IDF upon its female soldiers, as well as the high quality and particular intensity of the women who choose combat for their military service requirement. Gila smiles at Penina’s youth and notes proudly that female IDF combat soldiers are a norm now; and with a wry, contented smile asserts “they [female combat soldiers] don’t know what it was like in the past. . ."