Bruno Oliveira Martins
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Questioning binaries and challenging pre-established categorizations is an intrinsic feature of critical security studies. In their carefully researched, nuanced book, Ayelet Harel-Shalev & Shir Daphna-Tekoah make an important contribution to this agenda and beyond to include civil-military relations and trauma studies. This questioning happens through a treatment of the women/combat dyad not from the perspective of 'women as victims' nor of 'women as contributors to peace', but rather of 'women as combatants', i.e. women as perpetrators of violence and then as trauma victims of that same violence. The authors have interviewed 100 Israeli women veteran soldiers, most of whom during their undergraduate studies. They had been drafted at the age of 18 and then volunteered for their combat or combat-support roles (about 50-50 in the sample). Their narratives and their stories provide new insights into how gender relates to war, politics, trauma, and body. They confirm that women combatants are a complex group with diverse responses to traumatic experiences, manifested in both body and mind. They also show how a mere female presence in an environment marked by dynamics of hyper-masculinity impacts the behavior of all involved. While this latter aspect is certainly not breaking news, reading the concrete stories is highly thought-provoking. In Israel, it is common that teenagers and young adults are in the army during the week, often in combat roles, and then go home in the weekends. Then the week starts again, the buses and trains filled with young people and their guns going back to 'work'. This leaves deep scars in the society, and this wonderful book offers important elements with which to analyze them.