Protecting the protectors

22-year-old Operations Officer Lt. Daya Mordechai stands guard for her soldiers, looking after their well-being as they guard crossings in Judea and Samaria

Date: 06/06/2013, 7:44 PM     Author: Sahar Raz

Lt. Daya Mordechai (22) is the Operations Officer of the IDF (Zahal) Military Police’s Erez Battalion, which is stationed at one of the crossings between Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria region. She has seen it all: serving as a psychologist, a police officer, even a mother when need be – and she prides herself on keeping Israel’s borders safe while keeping her soldiers safe under the most stressful of circumstances.

“There is a liability that comes with being an officer at the crossings,” she recently explained to the IDF (Zahal) Website. “I am responsible for the health and happiness of every one of my soldiers who is keeping guard.”

The challenges these soldiers face while guarding the checkpoints and crossings are immense.

“The difficulties are not simply the physical difficulties of standing in the blistering sun or the freezing snow for 12 hours a day,” Lt. Mordechai said. “[We serve on] a closed base and the feeling of loneliness is bound to occur so, besides being their commander, I must literally be everything that they need me to be for them – from a therapist to a mother to a best friend.”

Protecting the protectors

Lt. Mordechai is many things to her soldiers, especially a friend.

But most of all, Lt. Mordechai’s job entails preparing soldiers to handle the risks they face on a daily basis. “The soldiers can be exposed to a range of physical and emotional hardships while guarding the crossings, and I must make sure they are prepared to handle whatever comes their way,” she noted. “My main priority is to turn these soldiers into professionals, educating the platoons and making sure they are well trained for the job.”

An effective measure against terror attacks

Soldiers of the Erez Battalion guard at crossings such as Kalandia, which is located in the Samaria region, between Jerusalem and Ramallah. These are security facilities that allow anyone with permits to leave Judea and Samaria and enter other regions of Israel for work, medical care, education, or religious reasons. Additionally, there are IDF (Zahal) checkpoints, which operate during times of heightened security risk to prevent terrorists from executing their plans to harm civilians.

Before beginning to serve as guards, these soldiers go through basic training, followed by a specialized training course lasting two and a half months. They then arrive at their bases and complete workshops preparing them for the threats they are likely to encounter at the crossings.

“For example, we are confronted with many incidents of ammunition and weapons smuggling,” Lt. Mordechai explained. “So one of the many workshops they must go through before they begin to work involves identifying threats of weapons smuggling.”

Protecting the protectors

While Lt. Mordechai admits that these crossings may pose an inconvenience, she also recognizes that they are effective in their mission. “Obviously no one enjoys waiting to pass through these crossings – neither Jews nor Arabs,” Lt. Mordechai said. “But at the end of the day, since the establishment of these crossings, it is a fact that the number of terrorist threats and incidents in Israel declined in an impressive manner. We see the statistics and we’re proud to know that we prevented a lot of violent incidents from occurring.”

In response to criticism of the crossings, Lt. Mordechai responded: “Our motto is to be respectful and to remain sharp. It’s very much a life lesson, guarding these crossings every day. We respect everyone, no matter if they are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian – everyone is a human being. With that said, we have to stay alert to accomplish our mission, which is maintaining the security of the borders.”

Protecting her home

Lt. Mordechai enlisted in the IDF (Zahal) over three and a half years ago, starting off in the same place that she is currently commanding. When she first joined the unit, she had no idea of the range of emotions and experiences – both difficult and remarkable – that her various roles would entail.

Protecting the protectors

In her years of experience in the unit, Lt. Mordechai has learned that a smile goes a long way.

“In the beginning, I didn’t understand the purpose of my position,” she said. “Very quickly I grew in many ways, learning to admire and appreciate every single soldier manning these crossings. Recently, we even became recognized as an official combat battalion because, unfortunately, life here guarding the borders exposes us to many conflicts and encounters involving combat.”

Two years ago, Lt. Mordechai completed her officers’ training course, after which she returned to the unit, this time as a platoon commander responsible for over 50 soldiers. She looks back at this time as the most worthwhile in her service in the IDF (Zahal).

“In all my time as an IDF (Zahal) soldier, this was by far the most meaningful experience I ever had,” she said. “Being with these soldiers for 24 hours a day, from morning to evening, and looking after them was the best experience of my life.”

About a year ago, Lt. Mordechai became Operations Officer, overseeing the platoon commanders. “My job now is to make sure everything is operating smoothly: that the soldiers are well trained and professional while guarding the crossings, that we gather all of the accurate statistics from these crossings, and that everyone is obeying commands.”

In Lt. Mordechai’s eyes, there is no doubt she is protecting the lives of those close to her. “I live here in Givon Ha’Hadasha [a community in the Judea and Samaria region], 10 minutes from the Kalandia Crossing, and I have pride in the fact that I am literally protecting my own home,” she told the IDF (Zahal) Website.

Today, Lt. Mordechai sees no end to her days with the IDF (Zahal), hoping to become company commander in the Erez Battalion. “It is in the most tedious and difficult jobs that true friendships come to life,” she explained. “I must say the sense of community felt between the soldiers is heartwarming and I want to continue to be a part of it.”