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After veteran’s self-immolation, Gantz forms panel to plan reforms

Defense minister appoints vet who lost arm in Gaza to review ministry’s treatment of disabled individuals after case of Itzik Saidyan shocks nation

IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan, who set himself alight outside a Defense Ministry office on April 12, 2021. (screenshot: Channel 12)
IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan, who set himself alight outside a Defense Ministry office on April 12, 2021. (screenshot: Channel 12)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday said he was forming a public committee to plan reform of the ministry’s Rehabilitation Department for disabled veterans, days after an IDF veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder set himself alight outside the department’s offices in Petah Tikva.

Itzik Saidyan, 26, remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Gantz said the committee will be led by Ziv Shilon, an entrepreneur and activist who lost his arm during army service in 2012 when a bomb went off along the Gaza border.

In a statement, Gantz said the ministry had already been working on reform plans prior to the Saidyan incident, and that Shilon “will help us to lead a reform that will come from the heart — and that is what we need for change at this time.”

Ziv Shilon (Twitter)

The IDF Veteran’s Association has said that Saidyan was frustrated over his treatment by authorities. He was recognized by the Defense Ministry as having 25 percent disability from his post-traumatic stress disorder, but had requested 50% recognition. The ministry had refused, saying at least a portion of his condition was due to childhood trauma, not his military service.

Saidyan served in the Golani Infantry Brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in the Battle of Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

He was interviewed about his struggle with PTSD by Channel 12 two years ago.

Recalling the deadly combat in Gaza, he said he lost seven of his brothers-in-arms within three hours of the beginning of the fighting. “And after that I spent another two and half weeks in Shuja’iyya,” he said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on March 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Saidyan on Monday arrived at the Rehabilitation Department’s offices in Petah Tikva with a bottle full of a flammable liquid, doused himself with it, and then set himself on fire in the entryway.

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday pledged to improve its services for disabled army veterans following Saidyan’s self-immolation.

Gantz and Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel ordered an investigation of the incident in order to determine what prompted Saidyan’s actions and what steps the ministry can take immediately, the ministry said.

Eshel said his ministry was responsible for driving Saidyan’s act.

“The fire that Itzik Saidyan lit is a wake-up call,” Eshel told the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday. He said the incident was “shocking on every scale.”

“Itzik is a disabled IDF veteran in our care; we are responsible and I, as the director-general of this ministry, am responsible. It is our responsibility,” he said.

Former head of the air force, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel speaks at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv on January 28, 2019. (INSS)

Eshel ordered the formation of a commission of inquiry to look at the case, which is being led by the ministry’s planning department chief, Eliav Karni, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The committee’s findings will be presented in the coming days.

As Israel marked Memorial Day on Wednesday, Gantz said: “We have an obligation to remember the fallen, and an obligation to the living as well, including the tens of thousands of casualties who bear the scars of war on their bodies and spirits, both visibly and hidden.

“We must be more sensitive, to be there for them, and to question ourselves when needed, which reality has proven to us in the most difficult way,” he said.

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