A former soldier who took part in Israel’s brutal 2014 military offensive against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip set himself on fire on Monday evening in front of the Ministry of Defence rehabilitation offices, local media have reported. The ministry confirmed that 26-year-old veteran Itzik Saidian was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing combat during Operation Protective Edge seven years ago.
Saidian was rushed to the Sheba Medical Centre with extensive burns after self-immolating in Petah Tikva. His condition was said by the hospital to be “critical”, with “deep burns all over his body”. Speaking to journalists at the hospital, his tearful brother Avi said that, “He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the offensive on 8 July 2014, and the casualty rate made it one of the bloodiest years in Palestinian history. According to a UN report, the Israeli army hit Gaza with 6,000 airstrikes and almost 50,000 tank and artillery shells over 50 days.
All Jewish and Druze Israeli citizens over 18 are expected to serve in the army. Israel’s 20 per cent Arab population and certain ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempt.
Initial investigations suggest that the former soldier pulled out a bottle of flammable substance, poured it over himself, and set it alight at the entrance to a building belonging to the defence ministry.
According to Haaretz, during an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News nearly 18 months ago Saidian complained about his lack of life prospects after leaving the Israeli army with a small monthly disability allowance. “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 at the time. “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.”
When seeking employment, he was reportedly told that an increase in income would affect his disability benefit.
Netanyahu said that he was “very shocked” at the news of Saidian’s self-immolation. “I am determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans,” he added.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”