Disabled Israeli Army Veteran Sets Himself on Fire Ahead of Memorial Day

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

A 26-year-old disabled Israeli army veteran set himself on fire in front of the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation department offices in Petah Tikva on Monday evening, two days before the annual Memorial Day.

The man, identified as Itzik Saidian, was taken to Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, in serious condition with extensive burns.

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On Monday, he poured flammable liquid over himself and lit it at the entrance to the building, the Defense Ministry said.

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

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.

Itzik Saidian Credit: Itzik Saidian's Facebook page

“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 tieswith 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.

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

A veteran who served with Saidian in the same company said Saidian did not speak often about his experiences in Gaza. "During the battle in Operation Protective Edge he was simply a hero, he fought there in order to assist his fellow soldiers."

A different 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 during every contact 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."

President Reuven Rivlin wrote on Twitter: "Among our sons and daughters who returned from battle, there are many who continue to fight. We see you, We hurt with you when you return restless to the battlefield of live. We owe the existence of the state to Itzik, and to all of our fighting children. We are responsible for you."

At the start of a cabinet meeting on Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident shocking and said that unfortunately, Saidian is not the only one of our soldiers who is in such distress. The premier added that he is committing to comprehensive reforms of treatment for disabled and wounded IDF veterans.  

“The Defense Ministry security guards acted immediately, using a fire extinguisher and called the emergency medical service. The circumstances of the incident are not clear at this time,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

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 Frist Aid, at 1201 or by on-line chat, among other agencies.

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