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Defense Ministry vows to do more for veterans after ‘shocking’ self-immolation

‘We are responsible’ for condition of Gaza veteran Itzik Saidyan, laments director-general; IDF chief visits critically injured ex-soldier

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)

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday pledged to improve its services for disabled army veterans, after an ex-soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder set himself alight outside its rehabilitation center.

Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel said his ministry was responsible for driving Itzik Saidyan, 26, a veteran of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, to desperation.

Saidyan remains in critical condition after the self-immolation on Monday. 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.

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

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

“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 said the ministry had already tried to improve services for disabled veterans but acknowledged its failures. He said that Saidyan was driven to act as he did “out of distress.”

“This is something we will look at seriously, in depth, with the understanding that this is an outcome that cannot happen, and we must try in every way to prevent its recurrence,” Eshel said.

IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan (Facebook)

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.

“The ministry is committed to drawing lessons and implementing them systemically for a substantial improvement in the treatment of combat casualties,” the ministry said. “Employees of the Ministry of Defense’s Rehabilitation Division will continue to treat and support IDF invalids with dedication and professionalism.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visited Saidyan at the Sheba Medical Center, where he is being treated in the intensive care unit, and met with his family.

In brief remarks to reporters, Kohavi said, “It is terribly painful. We are here for the family and will help in every way possible.”

Earlier Saidyan’s brother Avi and sister Leah urged authorities to offer better services to its injured veterans to prevent further tragedies.

Screen capture from video of Leah Saidyan at Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer, April 13, 2021. (Channel 12 News)

“Do everything so that this is the last case. Don’t slam the door in their faces,” Leah Saidyan implored.

“He would talk about how he saw his friends burning in a jeep. And he would say, ‘why didn’t they burn me? Why didn’t I burn?’ And then in the end, that’s what he did to himself. In the end, he did it to himself,” she told Channel 12, breaking down in tears.

“Itzik saw terrible things and no one paid attention. They abandoned him. Help all these soldiers,” added Avi Saidyan.

Ido Gal Razon, director of the Fighters For Life support organization that supports combat soldiers suffering from PTSD, told Army Radio that “until we see something move, we won’t believe the promises. Why don’t they give treatment to a person who begs for it?”

Screen capture from video of Avi Saidyan at Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer, April 13, 2021. (Channel 13 News)

Saidyan is recognized as disabled due to his PTSD following service in the military during the 2014 Gaza war.

On Monday, Saidyan 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 after the incident.

During the 2014 seven-week military campaign known as Operation Protective Edge, the IDF battled against Palestinian militias led by the Hamas terror group. Saidyan, who served in the Golani Infantry Brigade, participated in the Battle of Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

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