Hundreds of protesters led by a group of disable military veterans blocked a major Tel Aviv highway, calling for urgent reform in the Defense Ministry's policy in the wake of the self-immolation of a disabled ex-soldier last week.
Protest organizers say the ministry's veteran rehabilitation agency provides them with poor care, which they argue constitutes an infringement of their basic rights.
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The protest, which started in front of the Defense Ministry headquarters in central Tel Aviv and then moved on to the nearby Ayalon Highway, comes after 26-year-old Itzik Saidian set himself on fire last week, ahead of Israel's Memorial Day, in front of a veteran rehabilitation center.
Saidian remains in critical condition at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, after suffering extensive burns. The hospital said on Sunday we underwent a surgery.
He had been wounded in battle during Israel's 2014 Gaza war and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, under the veteran rehablilitation agency's criteria he wasn't entitled for the treatment he required and received little government aid, while being discouraged from getting a job.
A friend of him said the agency's attitude apparently pushed him to set himself on fire, out of despair. The Defense Ministry ordered an investigation into the case last week, and it's director-general accepcted responsibility for Saidian's condition.
Protesters on Sunday called for an end to what they described as the ministry's "abandonment of the Israel Defense Forces' handicapped."
"Today my girls call me crazy, not a hero, because I suffer from PTSD," said Oren Koenig, a resident of the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam who came out to protest. "I argued with the Defense Ministry, but everyone ignores me. Whatever they give me is not worth what I went through," he said
"I hope Itzik Saidian will be the last, because there are a lot more in line," Koenig concluded.
During the demonstration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with members of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, and said that within two weeks he and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will present a proposal to reform the Defense Ministry's policies on disabled veterans.
Idan Kleiman, chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, said after the meeting veterans are tired of "empty promises," and vowed to return to the streets "with greater force" if Netanyahu doesn't bring a proposal for a Knesset debate by the end of the month.
Now is "the time for actions," Saidian's sister, Leah, added.