Defense Ministry to Probe Israeli Army Veteran's Self-immolation

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The entrance to the rehabilitation wing of the Defense Ministry in Petah Tikva, yesterday
The entrance to the rehabilitation wing of the Defense Ministry in Petah Tikva, yesterdayCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Defense Ministry has ordered an investigation into the case of a disabled IDF veteran who set himself on fire two days before Israel's Memorial Day, the ministry's director-general Amir Eshel announced on Tuesday.

Itzik Saidian, 26-years-old, was admitted to the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, in a serious condition with extensive burns, after he self-immolated in front of the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Department on Monday.

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The department's behavior during their correspondences allegedly pushed him the edge of despair, a friend said.

Itzik Saidian Credit: Itzik Saidian's Facebook page

Eshel assigned the head of the ministry’s planning directorate, reservist Gen. Eliezer Karni, to head an investigative team to present initial conclusions in the coming days. At the same time, the director-general pledged to provide all necessary assistance to Itzik and his family.

In an interview with Kan Bet public radio, Eshel said his office is responsible for Saidian's condition: "Itzik is a disabled soldier in our care, we are responsible, and I, as the director-general of the ministry, am responsible."

"It is something that we will look at seriously, in depth, and in the understanding that this is an outcome that we must try in every way to prevent its recurrence," he added. 

The Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation department offices in Petah Tikva, today.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Defense Ministry also released a statement on the incident, expressing solidarity with his family. "This is a very difficult incident, shocking for any human being. Itzik, a disabled IDF veteran who was under the ministry’s care, felt a distress which led him to take the worst possible desperate action."

It also stated that it will "not spare any effort to learn from this incident and make the necessary corrections" and to "provide significantly improved care for those suffering from PTSD."

Earlier on Tuesday, the director-general presented the findings of a preliminary investigation to Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Israeli military chief Aviv Kochavi also visited Itzik in hospital earlier in the day, and stated that the country must "do everything" to help those who "fought and risked themselves for the country." 

In light of the incident, Israeli hotline Natal, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, reported a 300 percent spike in calls for help.

Efrat Shaprut, the center’s director-general, said they are "preparing for one of the more difficult and complicated days on the Israeli calendar."  The center will operate on an emergency footing during Memorial Day through the eve of Independence Day on Wednesday.

Natal’s statistics point to a 35 percent rise in calls for help by Yom Kippur War vets and a 39 percent hike in calls by veterans of the First Lebanon War. This year, however, the majority of calls come from veterans of Operation Protective Age, the 2014 Gaza war. These veterans account for 71 percent of calls to the hotline.

A history of trauma met with 'humiliation'

Saidian fought in the 2014 war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City in 2014.Credit: Adel Hana / AP

About 18 months ago, Saidian was interviewed on Channel 12 News. “Most of the people my age are not where I am. Not in terms of the psychological and the economic aspects. I feel the differences,” he said.

“I lost seven of my friends in three hours after the beginning of the fighting [in the 2014 Gaza war] and continued to fight for another two and half weeks,” he added. During the war, Saidian was part of a unit traveling in an APC that was hit by an RPG; seven Golani troops were killed in the incident and Hamas abducted the body of one of the fallen soldiers.

“You have half an hour to describe what you have been through in the last five years. If you want attention you pay a lawyer tens of thousands of shekels,” Saidian said in regards to the treatment he got from the Defense Ministry committees that decide his level of disability.

Saidian was recognized as a disabled veteran, but at a level of disability that did not allow him to get all the treatment that he needed and that made him eligible for only a small monthly allowance. When he tried to obtain permission to work, in order to increase his income, he was told that any additional income would affect his disability allowance. In recent months Saidian claimed that the treatment he received did not help him cope with his emotional problems.

Saidian grew up in Be'er Sheva, but after his parents divorced he severed ties with some of his family and went to live with his sister in Jerusalem. He was recognized as a "lone soldier" by the Israel Defense Forces during his service. During the past two years he joined a support group for veterans with PTSD, as part of a project called Yom Tov, whose members go surfing in Tel Aviv on a weekly basis.

Three months ago, Saidian began to study a type of therapy called Conscious Thinking or the Yemima Method, and told friends it was helping him feel better. He recently told his friends that he was considering moving away from Tel Aviv, where he has been living for a number of years, to a moshav in central Israel, saying he needed quiet in order to take care of himself.

One friend, who spoke with Haaretz, said his last conversation with Saidian took place about a week ago. "He recently talked a lot about trying not to break down, about keeping his head above water," the friend said. "Dealing with the Defense Ministry was difficult, and he said he felt humiliated in his exchanges with them. The Rehabilitation Department's behavior, together with a tough period, apparently brought him to the edge of despair. I'm in shock over what he did. We knew he was struggling lately, but we never thought it would come to this."

Trauma survivors in need of help can turn to Natal, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, at 1-800-363-363 or by on-line chat, and to Eran, Emotional First Aid, at 1201 or by on-line chat, among other agencies.

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