Wounded IDF veterans block highway to Jerusalem, demand reform of rehab care

Protest comes as government approval of One Soul, the Defense Ministry plan to improve treatment for disabled ex-soldiers, is held up by fighting over funding

Israeli veterans and disabled IDF soldiers block Route 1 at the entrance to Jerusalem protesting for better financial and medical support, on May 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Israeli veterans and disabled IDF soldiers block Route 1 at the entrance to Jerusalem protesting for better financial and medical support, on May 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Dozens of wounded IDF veterans blocked traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem Wednesday as part of a protest calling on the government to approve plans to provide better care for injured ex-servicemen.

Before blocking Route 1, the protesters rallied outside the Knesset, with some scuffling with parliamentary security when they tried to move barricades at the Knesset entrance, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Government approval of the Defense Ministry plan for improving the treatment for wounded veterans, called One Soul, is being held up by infighting over funding.

“We cannot be lied to, we will not stop protesting until the reform is fully implemented,” said Idan Kliman, head of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, according to Channel 12.

Israeli veterans and disabled IDF soldiers protest outside the Knesset, demanding better financial and medical aid and support, May 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

During the protest, demonstrators laid memorial candles on top of the bronze menorah outside Knesset. Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev, a former IDF colonel, came out to greet the crowd, but they interrupted him, chanting: “Only by force — not by words — only by deeds will our struggle succeed,” said the network.

“All the fighters who are here have a common denominator: they lie awake at night,” shouted protester Raphael Francia in front of the Knesset.

“I want to explain to the Knesset members who sleep well at night: You are causing an unforgivable injustice.”

“Finance minister, we are disabled IDF soldiers — it is thanks to us that you are sitting here and today you are neglect us. You should be ashamed – we protected Israel and today you kick us,” he added.

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

The Defense Ministry’s much-maligned Rehabilitation Department came under heightened scrutiny after a veteran with PTSD, Itzik Saidyan, who had struggled to receive help from the ministry, set himself on fire outside the department’s offices in Petah Tikva last month. He remains in serious condition.

Another group of demonstrators gathered outside the Rehabilitation Department on Wednesday. Some of them poured water on themselves from jerrycans in solidarity with Saidyan, who poured flammable liquid on his body before setting himself alight. A Defense Ministry official confiscated the containers, according to Channel 12.

Saidyan’s sister, Leah, also spoke in protest: “My heart is with you. I very much hope that they will finally listen to us and help rehabilitate the people who are the reason we have this state.”

Plans to reform the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department to provide better care for wounded veterans came to a halt this week as political rivals Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz fought over the source of funding for the NIS 350 million ($108 million) proposal.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-L) and Prime Minister Benjamin (C) in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)

The cabinet was due to discuss the proposal last week, but that was postponed due to a fight within the government over the appointment of a justice minister. The discussion was rescheduled to Sunday, but was again delayed as the cabinet canceled its meeting out of respect for the 45 people who were killed in the Mount Meron disaster last week.

The Prime Minister’s Office blamed the holdup on the Defense Ministry, saying it should be responsible for providing at least NIS 75 million ($23 million) of the funding for the program in 2021, and NIS 150 million ($46 million) in 2022 from its existing budget.

The Defense Ministry attacked the financial proposal, arguing it had been promised an assigned budget to implement the reform. A Defense Ministry official told Channel 12: “This is not a plan, this is a work in progress.”

“The prime minister and finance minister lied to wounded IDF veterans and bear full responsibility for not passing the proposal. We had discussions and made decisions, but Netanyahu and Katz chose instead to withdraw and flee,” he said.

Defense Ministry officials unveil new reforms for Rehabilitation Department at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 22, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The Rehabilitation Department has long been criticized, both by veterans’ groups and in government probes, for having an excessively complicated and difficult system of establishing if an applicant can be recognized as having injuries caused by or during their military service. The process can in some cases take several years, during which the applicant may not be eligible to receive required assistance. This is considered especially true for veterans suffering from PTSD, who can be subjected to probes by Defense Ministry investigators looking for reasons why their conditions may not have been caused by their military service.

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