Palestinian women in combat fatigues and headscarves rappelled down a six-story tower, fired assault rifles at imaginary terrorists and in a drill straight out of the movies bundled a would-be VIP into a car and sped off after a shooting.

The 22 future commandos are trailblazers in a still largely male-dominated society, set to become the first female members of the Presidential Guards, a Palestinian elite force of 2,600 men. Their inclusion is the result of gradual changes in the West Bank in recent years.

Some gender barriers have fallen, with a few women assuming posts as mayors, judges and Cabinet ministers or starting their own businesses. At the same time, unemployment is on the rise, and families are more open to women entering non-traditional jobs if it means another paycheck. […]