An IDF veteran who self-immolated outside a Defense Ministry office for injured soldiers last year said he did so to show “how much I suffered” in a new documentary, the first in-depth look at Itzik Saidyan since he sparked a national reckoning over Israel’s treatment of wounded soldiers.
The Channel 12 documentary broadcast on Monday follows Saidyan through eight months of his hospitalization and recovery.
In a series of interviews, Saidyan discusses his military service, the trauma he endured during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge conflict in Gaza, and his decision to attempt suicide.
To protest alleged neglect by authorities, Saidyan in April 2021 set himself on fire outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Rehabilitation Department for disabled soldiers, after years of struggling to receive the care he sought for PTSD, which he said stemmed from his service in the military.
Saidyan said he chose the Rehabilitation Department because he saw it as the source of so much of his suffering.
“I wanted them to see and to understand how much I suffered from them, [to understand] the extent to which I am ready to die rather than go on living after what I went through with them,” he said. The flames nearly killed him and he spent months in intensive care.
Saidyan described how he stood in front of a security camera “so that they see me in front of their eyes” and then set himself on fire.
He remembers everything about the incident, he said, including a feeling of failure as staff at the office desperately tried to put out his flames.
“I thought that everything I did was in vain because I stayed alive,” he said of the life-saving efforts.
Yet others suffering from PTSD said that Saidyan’s actions made a difference for them.
“You don’t know me, but ever since your life changed, mine did too. You saved my life, and those of many, many others. You don’t know what you did,” Hanania Amos, a soldier suffering from post-trauma, was shown telling Saidyan in the hospital.
Saidyan served in the Golani infantry brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in the fighting in Shejaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.
After serving in the IDF, Saidyan suffered from PTSD and was recognized as a disabled soldier, but he struggled to access help through the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation services department.
He was recognized by the Defense Ministry as having a 25 percent disability due to his 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 was in a coma for the first five months after his self-immolation, and underwent over 30 surgeries. He spent a year in the Tel Sheba Medical Center’s burn unit, near Tel Aviv, before he was transferred to the rehabilitation unit, where he continued to undergo intensive treatment.
“How could I do this to myself? What happened that I got to this?” Saidyan asks in the documentary. “Who is going to want me like this?”
The documentary also reviewed the Beersheba native’s life from his early childhood. One of four siblings, his father left them as a child and passed away a week before his bar mitzvah.
In high school, Saidyan left home to live with his sister in Jerusalem and served in the IDF as a lone soldier on the grounds of not being in contact with his family.
The Defense Ministry’s treatment for wounded veterans came under intense scrutiny in the weeks following Saidyan’s grim protest.
Veterans and their advocates have long maligned the department as providing woefully insufficient care and subjecting applicants to a bureaucracy so convoluted and tortuous that many were required to hire expensive lawyers to help them navigate the system.
After Saidyan’s self-immolation and the accompanying outcry, the Defense Ministry sought to implement reforms that it had for years been considering but had not had the political will to carry out.