As Moshe Silman Is Laid to Rest,disabled IDF Veteran Sets Himself Ablaze

A disabled Israel Defense Forces veteran is in critical condition after setting himself on fire yesterday, sustaining burns over 70 percent of his body. The incident happened on the same day that Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire at a social protest earlier this month, was laid to rest, two days after succumbing to his wounds. (See story, Page 3 )

Akiva Mafa'i, 45, of Moshav Bareket, immolated himself at a bus stop near the town of Yehud in central Israel. Mafa'i was recognized as 25 percent disabled after he was injured nine years ago in a car accident while he was volunteering with the Border Police. Following his injury and a subsequent stroke several years later, he was unable to work and depended on his benefits from the Defense Ministry and the National Insurance Institute.

Mafa'i took the drastic step after he participated in a demonstration Saturday night in front of the National Insurance Institute offices in Tel Aviv. "He was desperate, and, unfortunately, did what Silman did," Mafa'i's brother said.

According to his brother, Mafa'i left home at 5 A.M., as he often does, and waited at a bus station in Yehud, not far from his home, for the taxi that takes him to a clinic that treats disabled veterans. He apparently bought a canister of gasoline at a nearby gas station, and while waiting at the bus stop he poured the gas on himself and ignited it.

Mahmoud Gadid said he was driving past the bus stop when he saw Mafa'i pour a liquid over himself from a bottle. "I immediately realized it was gas and not water and I stopped my car and ran to him. I saw him with the lighter and I said, 'don't do it.' But he set himself on fire. I ran to the car and brought a small fire extinguisher."

Mafa'i's brother and sister, who are by his bedside at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, said their brother had never married and had no children. When he was 23, during reserve duty, he was injured in an accident in Tze'elim in the Negev. He was hospitalized at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, where he lay unconscious for four months. His family said he underwent six months of rehabilitation, and that after a prolonged struggle he was recognized as a disabled IDF veteran.

In 2003 he was injured in the shoulder and elbow in a car accident while volunteering with the Border Police, and was recognized as having a 25 percent disability. Mafa'i was in debt, but according to his brother, "the debts are not the main thing. The story is the way the authorities treated him - the Defense Ministry and the welfare authorities. He is a disabled veteran. The army loves you under the ground but doesn't love you after you're injured. It takes time to get everything that's coming to you, if you ever get it, and people take extreme measures because of that.

"I am not surprised, I feel everything the disabled IDF veterans are saying. We grew up in a home that contributes to the state, and continues to contribute. We gave our lives to the state, and in the end they throw you out. The IDF disabled veterans feel like a burden on society; that's our frustration. When you're called to reserve duty, you leave everything and go to serve the state with love, and in the end when something happens to you, you're left on your own," Shlomo Mafa'i said.

Dudu Gilboa from the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization, who came to the hospital to see Mafa'i, said the organization's representatives had spoken with him on Friday. "His psychological state was poor and he had lots of debts," Gilboa said. "He's been talking for a while about harming himself. He lives alone, it's hard for him and he doesn't know how to deal with the problems."

Gilboa said Mafa'i felt that he had given his all to the state and the state had abandoned him. "The Defense Ministry and the National Insurance Institute didn't take care of him," Gilboa said.

"At the moment there are more than 50,000 disabled veterans who feel like Mafa'i does, Gilboa added. "I call on those who are thinking about doing something like this not to dare do it," he said.

The disabled veterans organization said yesterday there was concern this might not be the last such case and that the organization "represents many disabled people who unfortunately feel abandoned by the system and whose legal rights have been slashed unilaterally."

The Defense Ministry's rehabilitation branch said in statement yesterday, "there is no connection between today's incident and the disabled individual's military disability, the treatment of which was professional, responsible and devoted. After checking into the case it emerges that no particular application was made by the disabled individual for special help."

According to the Social Affairs Ministry, a social worker was in daily contact with Mafa'i and he received the maximum amount of assistance for his disability.