Dozens of people, including disabled Israeli military veterans and those with post-traumatic stress disorder, demonstrated on Wednesday in front of Defense Ministry's rehabilitation clinic in central Israel, where a disabled veteran set himself on fire on Monday, protesting a lack of support from the ministry in vets' rehabilitation.
The demonstrators called on the ministry to "stop burying" those suffering from PTSD, holding up signs reading, “We are all Itzik Saidian,” referring to the 26-years-old veteran, who remains hospitalized in critical condition with extensive burns.
The protest was held as Israel marked Memorial Day on Wednesday, commemorating fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.
The head of the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Division met the protesters outside the Petah Tikva branch where Saidian poured flammable liquid on himself and self-immolated. The demonstrators criticized the official and called on him to resign.
“People came here because of what Itzik did to wake you up, and I’m sorry, but we are a people who suffers from victimization only after a severe shock,” said Shlomo Ivgy from the Disabled Veterans Organization, which announced they will hold another protest on Sunday in front of the military's headquarters in central Tel Aviv.
Yoav, a disabled veteran who attended the protest, criticized the bureaucracy blocking vets from receiving the aid they need. "Our blood is their salaries," he said, "More clerks and more departments. Everything is fraud and crime. How do they turn fighters into rags? Why did Itzik burn himself? They hurt him so much, they betrayed him so much.”
The Defense Ministry has ordered an investigation into the case of Saidan, the ministry's director-general Amir Eshel announced on Tuesday. The department's behavior during their correspondences allegedly pushed him to the edge of despair, a friend said.
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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 are taking very seriously, with the understanding that we must try in every way to prevent its recurrence," he added.
Saidian’s brother, Avi, told reporters that the authorities “neglected him. He saw terrible things and nobody cared. Everyone thought he was just talking."
Israel's president, prime minister, and defense minister issued statements wishing Saidian a speedy recovery and expressing support for veterans suffering from trauma.
The army chief of staff, Aviv Kohavi, said in a statement that Israel “owes a great debt to those who risk their lives and their souls for the defense of the country and we must do everything to fight for their sake.”
But Edan Kleiman, director of Israel’s disabled veterans association, told Israeli public radio on Tuesday that Saidian’s case points to major shortcomings in the government’s veterans affairs bureau. He accused the Defense Ministry’s medical committees, which determine whether veterans qualify for disability treatment, of abuse, saying that veterans are “treated like swindlers, and their cases sometimes drags out for a decade.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.