Israel Debates Its Treatment of IDF Veterans but Continues to Terrorize Palestinians Daily

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A Palestinian demonstrator argues with an Israeli border policeman near Nablus, West Bank, 2021.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The case of Itzik Saidian, the soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and who set fire to himself last week, is harsh and shocking from any perspective. But the storm that erupted following his self-immolation was a mixture of understandable, justifiable horror plus a measure of loud exaggeration, hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness and double standards.

This storm highlighted some of the basic features of Israeli society: self-pity, manipulativeness, protest that is too little and too late, and moral blindness to the suffering of the other. Saidian was a victim of appalling obtuseness. The protest that followed his act was no less obtuse. Israel was protesting the wrong thing at the wrong time.

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Protests about the abandonment of those disabled during military service must be heard before the next war, not after it. But before the war it is never heard. The next time Israel sets out on another brutal attack on helpless Gaza, instigates a war with Iran or bombs in Lebanon, then, precisely then, the traumatized, the disabled and their families must protest, because they know the truth about the terrible costs. But when the Israel Defense Forces go to war, Israel unanimously applauds. Nobody talks about the shell-shocked soldiers who will return from battle.

“We are all Itzik Saidian,” read the cynical headline in Yedioth Ahronoth this week. “We will all be Itzik Saidian,” would be the more appropriate headline given Israel’s unbelievable provocations in Iran, the continued criminal siege on Gaza and perpetual occupation of the West Bank. These are all likely to bring the next war. Disabled IDF soldiers and Yedioth will applaud it, and afterward complain about how its victims are treated.

The words “IDF disabled” must no longer be treated as holy. Most soldiers so classified were not injured while fighting and some tried to defraud the system. Only a minority aren’t being treated as they deserve. There are few countries that handle their veterans with such devotion, making distinctions between a soldier hurt in a road accident and a civilian hurt in the same accident. Those with PTSD and those disabled in battle deserve all the remedies in the world; they went to fight wars they didn’t initiate and paid a terrible personal price.

But are they the only victims of the wars fought by Israel, nearly all them superfluous wars of choice? Have you ever heard of a shell-shocked Palestinian? About PTSD in Jenin? About victims of anxiety in Gaza? Is it possible that the greater victims of every violent conflict between us and them are so hardened that they’ve never heard of PTSD, and never suffered from it? Do the Palestinians have a rehabilitation department in their defense ministry? Does anybody take care of them?

Israel routinely spreads terror in the occupied territories. Every morning brings new Palestinian anxiety victims, among them children, after IDF soldiers and their dogs raid their homes at night, sowing destruction and primarily fear; laborers seeking work in Israel who are hunted down like animals, teens who try to cross the security barrier and are shot by soldiers, or passengers in cars stopped at checkpoints and who are shot at although they did nothing wrong. All of them suffer post-traumatic stress. Sometimes they are even injured and paralyzed for the rest of their lives – IDF-disabled. Does Israel bear no responsibility for them?

But there will be no protest about this in Israel. We’re all Itzik Saidian, which is emotional and heartfelt. But maybe for just a moment we can all be Assad Sarahah, the 18-year-old laborer who is laying traumatized in his home, unable to recover, after border policemen sicced their dogs on him and left him lying wounded on the floor of a police station for an entire day, until they dumped him at a checkpoint at night – all this on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The poor of your city come first, as do the disabled and the traumatized. But when there is such frightful hard-heartedness toward Israel’s victims, it’s harder to be shocked by the reduced allowance paid to a soldier hurt in a road accident, or even to someone with PTSD who’d gone to Gaza to kill the innocent.

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