When the Israeli Army's 55th paratroop brigade fought its way into Jerusalem's walled Old City on June 7, 1967, and captured the ancient Temple Mount, Lt. Karni Kav jumped on a jeep and joined the stream of other soldiers who were risking sporadic Jordanian Army sniper fire of their first look at the Wailing Wall, the holiest of shrines to Jews around the world.
With a rifle in hand, Kav blended into the landscape of combat-weary soliders mopping up the last enemy resistance that day, almost indistinguishable from a distance but unmistakably a woman from close up.
"We met the men near the Mosque of Omar. They were very moved when they say some women come in. It was like reaching out and touching the warmth of home again," said Kav, now a lieutenant colonel attached to an army unit that is overseeing construction of new air bases in the Negev desert.
As personally moving as it was, however, Kav's experience was an anomaly, and the image of women's role in Israel's Army as seen from afar is as misleading as was her appearance that warm June day from across the broad Omar Square.
It is the image of a shapely, miniskirted Israeli woman soldier, a snubnosed Uzi submachine gun slung casually over her shoulder hitchhiking on the Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem road on her way from furlough back to her tank corps in the Sinai.
The image is real enough. Thousands of women solidiers hitchhike with their submachine guns, and if asked, some of them say they are headed to jobs as medics and nurses' aides, secretaries, parachute folders, instructors, radio operators and accountants.
But the Israeli Army, while light years ahead of the U.S. armed forces in integrating women into the business of war preparedness, has yet to live up to one of the most publicized but least understood aspects of its image -- women in combat.
Out of sheer necessity, women did fight -- and die -- in the Haganah, the pre-statehood Jewish army, in the 1948 war of independence. But that was in spite of the admonition of Yigael Allon, commander of the Palmach strike force, that women should be excluded from any assignment that could "affect the ability of motherhood."
That decree still causes shudders among Israel's feminists, but it still holds in principle. Women are not allowed to serve in combat, even though they train for it, and they are required to evacuate areas in imminent danger of becoming combat zones.
But Isareli women do practically everything else in the defense of their country, and they do it in numbers unparalled anywhere else in the world. Five wars and the constant threat of hostilities along all its borders have led Isareli to institutionalize a women's military force that is so essential to defense that the army would be hard-press to get along without it.
CHEN, an acronym for women's corps that also means "charm" in Hebrew, conscripts 60 percent of Israel's women of draftable age and would take almost all the remainder except that 27 percent are exempted because they claim they cannot serve because of religous convictions and a desire to remain apart from secular life.
A small number are excluded because they marry before age 18, or for health or social problems, and some are deferred for schooling.
The army considers the number of persons serving in the armed forces to be classified security information but published reports of the International Institute for Strategic Studies put the total armed forces at about 160,000, of which 120,000 are draftees and the rest the standing army.
Sources outside Israel say that women comprise between a fourth and a third of the total armed forces. By law, women are required to serve in active reserve units until they reach 34, but in practice most are phased out of the reserves at 25 to 26 years of age, excet those with critical skills. Men are required to serve in active reserves until they reach 54.
The institute reports that Israel can mobilize 400,000 troops in 72 hours because of its large reserve force.
Elsewhere in the world, female conscription is practically unheard of, even in the Soviet Union, where thousands of women were thrown into battle against the advancing Nazi army in World War II.
Isarel and Romania are believed to be the only nations that draft Women, although many countries have women volunteers in their armed forces.
Under Israel's draft law, every man and women reaching 17 years is identified from birth or immigration records as a potential draftee and is called in for preliminary testing and classification.
Practically no Israeli man avoids the draft because all are graded on a scale from zero to 97 for what duties they are physically and mentally capable of performing.
Those at the higher end of the scale are deemed suitable for combat, those in the middle for mildly demanding support duties and those at the bottom for some form of untaxing service. Deferments for university study are rare, and are limited to highly specialized fields needed by the army.
Upon reaching 18 or finishing high school, the draft registrant is automically drafted, women for two years and men for three. Draft evasion is almost unheard of, largely because of the stigma attached to not serving in the military.
"It's become a stain in Isarel if you don't serve. If you go to apply for a job, the interviewer will invariably say, 'Where did you serve,' there's a big investigation. You are automatically suspect," said Kav.
In fact, the identity cards all Isarelis are required to carry contain a coded explanation of service or cause of deferment.
In Israel, the idea of military service is ingrained at an early age. Between 14 and 18, most youths serve in the Ganda youth battalions, a paramilitary organization roughly comparable to scout programs elsewhere.
Once a week and at summer camps, boys and girls in the Ganda are taught such basic military skills as marching use of a rifle, map reading, hiking, topography and military history.
When they are drafted, women in the Israeli army receive a six-week basic training course not unlike that in the men's army, including basic combat training. But the prohibition against actually serving in combat remains firm.
"If a woman is in a field unit, at the front, and the front shifts suddenly, the policy is to remove the women. It's a tought order to give, because these girls have become emotionally attached to their units and are reluctant to leave," said Kav.
But there is not always time to carry out that policy. During the 1973 war, when an Egyptian commando unit and Egyptian planes suddenly attacked and overran the Refidim Air Base in the Sinai, there were several casualties among Israeli women stationed there.
As a result of the no-combat policy, women usually perform support jobs in the regular army units, whether in the field or on base. Traditionally, their most common jobs have been in meteorology, education, logistics, medicine, secretarial work, communications, traffic policing and such support fields, although recently there has been an increase in the number of women driving trucks, teaching courses in tank driving and gunnery, aircraft mechanics and artillery instruction.
Many women also serve in quasimilitary national service jobs, such as teaching in the Ganda or performing social work at kibbutzim and development towns, particularly those with new immigrants.
Isarel's small but vocal women's liberation movement has been increasingly persistent in pressing the army to train women as pilots and infantry combat officers, but so far has made little headway in changing the no-combat law adopted by Israel's parliament.
A sarcastic Hebrew Expression among feminists here says, "The best men as pilots and the best girls for the pilots."
But careerists like Kav think the criticism is unjustified, they content that given the demanding conditions of desert warfare in the Middle East and the intensity of battle in the nation's five wars, women are not suited for frontline combat jobs.
"In Israel, women's liberation is not that developed," Kav said. "Maybe we don't need it, or maybe we don't want it. But in any case, we are still far ahead of every other country, including the United States."
And, she added, "Who is to say we are not performing an essential combat service if we are doing jobs that free more men who are so desperately needed at the front line?"