IN 1991, WHEN Gabriella Blum was 16 years old, the Israel Defense Forces suggested she go see the world. She’d skipped first grade and subsequently graduated high school in Tel Aviv early — too early to start the mandatory military service all Israelis begin at 18. So the IDF told her to check out Chiang Mai and Mumbai, and to call them in two years. Instead, she joined the IDF’s Academic Reserves, which allows young Israelis to study toward law degrees and eventually work as IDF lawyers. “It was kind of my version of, ‘I was young, I needed the money, who are you to judge me,’” she said, smiling. “That’s how I ended up in law school.”

Blum was a city kid from a left-leaning household. Her father was a physicist, her mother a literature professor. In 1995, when she completed her degree at Tel Aviv University and joined the IDF’s International Law Department, she became the highest-ranking soldier in her family’s history. At the time, the ILD was located in a small office just outside the Kirya, the IDF’s imposing central Tel Aviv headquarters. Blum had gone through basic training, and although she wasn’t obligated to carry her M16 rifle regularly — “It was much safer for everyone that I didn’t” — she interrogated the legality of the army’s actions while clad in her cream-and-olive-green officer’s uniform.

“The tzahal” — the Hebrew acronym for the Israeli army — “lets very young people do things that are outrageous to let a young person do,” Blum says now. “It’s much more apparent when you let a 19-year-old lead other people in battle. But it’s also true for young lawyers. In my unit, we were exposed to some of the most pathbreaking issues. On targeted killings, we were basically pioneers.”

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