Friend says Itzik Saidyan 'found solace in surfing'

PTSD-afflicted IDF veteran still critical after setting himself alight

IDF chief of staff, Netanyahu and Rivlin highlight struggle of those suffering from post-traumatic stress, and country’s debt to them

IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan (Facebook)
IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan (Facebook)

The condition of an IDF veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder remained critical Tuesday, a day after he set himself alight outside a Defense Ministry office that handles the rehabilitation of injured soldiers.

During the night Itzik Saidyan, 26, was transferred to the intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, where he is being treated for burns that cover his entire body.

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

Family and friends from his army service went to the hospital to be with him.

Among those who visited him were three of his commanding officers, the IDF said in a statement.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a memorial ceremony on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery on April 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi spoke with one of the officers, Colonel Erez Elkovich, as well as Saidyan’s elder sister Leah, who updated him on details of the incident.

“On behalf of the entire IDF I send wishes for a full and speedy recovery to Itzik Saidyan, a former combat soldier in the Golani Brigade who is hospitalized in serious condition,” Kohavi said. “Among our soldiers and our reservists there are those whose injuries cannot be seen and they carry in their hearts the scars of battle for many years.

“The IDF and the people of Israel owe a great debt to those who endanger their lives and their minds for the sake of protecting the country, and we must do everything to fight for them,” Kohavi said.

The incident came a day before Israel begins marking its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, which starts on Tuesday night.

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 Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the matter at the opening of a cabinet meeting later that evening, telling ministers he had spoken with the chairman of the IDF Veteran’s Association and “expressed my deep shock at the incident.”

“Regrettably, I know that Saidyan is not the only one among our fighters who has such scars,” Netanyahu said. “I am committed to making thorough reforms in the way we deal with disabled IDF veterans and their injuries.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin tweeted, “I am praying tonight with all my heart for the recovery of Itzik Saidyan.”

“Among our sons and daughters who returned from combat there are many who are still fighting. We see you. We hurt with you when you restlessly return to the battlefields of life. To Itzik and all our children who are fighting we owe the establishment of the state. We are responsible for their fate.”

Defense Minister Benny 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.

“From the depths of my heart I send wishes for a full recovery to Itzik Saidyan,” Gantz said in a statement. “We have a moral duty to do everything possible in order to help disabled IDF veterans, the best among us, who paid the heaviest price so that we can live here in security.”

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.

Screen capture from video of IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan talking about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Channel 12 News)

A friend of Saidyan, who said he recently met frequently with the veteran, told Channel 13 that authorities “treated him like a swindler who is trying to cheat the country.”

The friend, who was not named, spoke of Saidyan’s difficulties in adjusting to civilian life and said he had “fits of rage and quarrels, a past full of [various] jobs and apartments” but that he “found solace in surfing.”

Efrat Shaprut, executive director of the Natal trauma support group, said in a statement that it was a “sad and shocking” incident.

“Regrettably, we have seen a sharp rise in applications from released soldiers who are dealing with post-trauma due to their military service,” she said. “Most of the contact comes from veterans of Operation Protective Edge.”

She called on anyone who is dealing with PTSD to contact the organization.

“Don’t deal with it alone,” she said.

Two years ago Saidyan was interviewed by Channel 12 about his struggle with PTSD.

Saidyan, who was 25 at the time, complained of the IDF’s process for assessing the impact of his disorder, saying he was given just half an hour to explain to a review panel all of the difficulties he had carried over the years since 2014.

He said each time he was due to face an assessment committee it caused him emotional turmoil.

Illustrative. IDF soldiers rush towards a target during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“You don’t live,” he said. “I barely eat or sleep, I don’t leave home. You sit there and in half an hour you have to explain what you have been through in five years. If you don’t mention something [in particular] then that problem doesn’t exist [in the view of the committee].

“Most people at my age don’t find themselves where I am at — not mentally, not financially. I feel the differences,” he said.

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.

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.

Of the 481 disabled IDF veterans of Operation Protective Edge, 143 are recognized as suffering from PTSD, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

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