As Memorial Day siren blares, dozens stand where IDF veteran self-immolated

Demonstrators bearing signs reading ‘We are all Itzik Saidyan’ protest outside Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department offices

Protesters hold signs reading, 'We are all Itzik Saidyan,' outside the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Department in Petah Tikva, April 14, 2021. (Flash90)
Protesters hold signs reading, 'We are all Itzik Saidyan,' outside the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Department in Petah Tikva, April 14, 2021. (Flash90)

Dozens of people gathered Wednesday for the morning’s Memorial Day siren at the site where an IDF veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder self-immolated.

Itzik Saidyan, 26, set himself alight on Monday in an apparent act of protest and desperation that shocked the country and drew attention to the plight of traumatized veterans.

The demonstrators standing outside the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department offices in Petah Tikva held signs with slogans including, “We are all Itzik Saidyan.”

An organizer of the event said she had been unable to stop thinking about Saidyan’s case.

“I realized I had to do something. I couldn’t just go on with my day,” Eliana Barbal told Channel 12. “It’s Memorial Day, when we remember the fallen [soldiers], and it’s intolerable that we don’t remember those who are still here and need help, and are met with indifference.”

The Rehabilitation Department’s second-in-command, Itamar Graf, and dozens of its workers stood with the demonstrators, Channel 13 reported.

Nati Shaked, the founder of a support organization, said, “We decided not to wait until the next time a traumatized veteran decides to carry out a painful act ahead of Memorial Day to get slightly better treatment.”

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

“Israeli citizens are sending a clear message today to the decision-makers — you have a one-time opportunity to fix things. Do it, or we’ll shake the country,” Shaked said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said at a separate event on Wednesday, “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.

Saidyan remains in critical condition. The IDF Veteran’s Association 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.

Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Saidyan, 26, 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 said in a statement Monday.

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.

Eshel ordered the formation of a commission of inquiry to look at the case, which will be 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.

Bereaved families, friends and soldiers visit the graves of fallen troops during Memorial Day at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery in Tel Aviv, April 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israelis paid tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers and terror victims on Tuesday night and Wednesday for Memorial Day.

Since last Memorial Day, 112 new names were added to the roster of those who died defending the country since 1860, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry on Friday.

Forty-three were IDF soldiers, police officers, and civilians, and 69 were disabled veterans who died due to complications of injuries sustained during their service.

The figures include all soldiers and police who died during their service over the past year, including as a result of accidents, suicide, or illness.

Only three people were killed in violent, nationalistic attacks — two civilians and one soldier — the lowest yearly toll in Israel’s history.

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