Professions 30 March 2016 14 1534
In Israel, military service is compulsory for both men and women. That means every family with children faces the terrifying possibility that a loved one may be killed in action. Informing a soldier’s relatives that he or she has died is clearly important and so the Israeli Defence Forces set up a special messenger unit. In the all too frequent event of a soldier being killed, its sole task is to find his or her family as quickly as possible, to ensure they are told of the tragedy officially and in person rather than hearing it on the grapevine.
Messenger service officers wear a distinctive uniform, when it’s seen on the street near any home; every Israeli knows why they are knocking on a particular door, and that fateful knock is dreaded throughout the country. After breaking the devastating news, the messengers help organise funerals and ensure that the bereaved receive any emotional support they may need. For the messengers themselves it is more than just a job, they know better than most that no one is immune and frequently go far beyond the call of duty to help. Sometimes, life-long friendships between messengers and relatives are forged by the shared traumatic experience.
RT Doc travels to Israel to meet the servicemen who have come to be known as, “Angels of Death” and asks what it takes to do the job. We meet messenger unit officers to see how Israel’s Defence Forces handle the deaths of servicemen and women and look into why the messenger service is needed. Messengers talk openly about how they help bereaved relatives and the emotional impact such a demanding job has on them as individuals.