Netanyahu meets disabled IDF veterans as protests surge

Prime minister talks to disabled veterans after supporters of discharged soldier who set himself ablaze block Tel Aviv highway.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Sunday with the head of the Handicapped IDF Veterans Organization after hundreds of protesters blocked a major Tel Aviv highway protesting what they claim is the poor treatment given disabled soldiers.

The meeting came six days after IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan, 26, set himself on fire outside of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Saidyan was involved in heavy fighting in Gaza against Hamas in 2014 and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder assessed at 25% disability, but was frustrated over the rehabilitation boards refusal to up his disability rating to 50%.

Saidyan remained in critical condition Sunday in a Tel Aviv hospital with burns to his entire body.

About 700 IDF disabled and supporters had blocked the main Ayalon freeway in Tel Aviv before marching Sunday morning to the building housing the Ministry of Defense’s Rehabilitation Division, Walla News reported.

The protesters shouted Saidyan’s name and wore shirts reading “Leave no wounded behind,” while waving placards that said “Sorry I was hurt,” “Stop abusing heroes,” and Do not forget or forgive the actions of the Rehabilitation Division.”

Protesters said they will continue to demonstrate as long as the government takes no action on the issue and would widen their protests Monday to seven branch offices of the Rehabilitation Division around the country.

With public sentiment behind the veterans, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Sunday with the chairman of the IDF Handicapped Veterans Organization, Ido Kleiman.

“We are in very difficult times. Our friend is laying burned in hospital,” Kleiman told Netanyahu. “The pain is truly very great and the historical distortions demand immediate repair.”

Kleiman told the prime minister he thanked him for finally “rising above all political considerations and putting the IDF wounded in the place they deserve, and for the entire government of Israel being mobilized to help and repair this great injustice.”

Netanyahu acknowledged that “the distress of handicapped and wounded IDF veterans is real.” Netanyahu said, promising that “a comprehensive reform of treatment for the wounded, the handicapped and those suffering from PTSD” would be brought to the cabinet within two weeks.

“I think that it is very important, corrects a terrible injustice and deals with the distress,” Netanyahu said.

Disabled IDF veteran, Eli Peretz, 73, from Afula, said he traveled to Tel Aviv to demonstrate his frustration with the system.

“At first they recognized me at 90%, but reduced my disability to 15%,” he told Walla News. “And now – each committee has four dolls with white jackets and they don’t check anything.”

“I am not asking for money, I want to prove that I am injured,” Peretz said. “Today I am an invalid – I cannot walk without a scooter. I need medical help from them.”

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Uzi Dayan, a former top general in the IDF and also the former chairman of the IDF Disabled Lobby in the Knesset, came to support the demonstrators.

“This is the most justified struggle in the State of Israel, it must not be stopped,” Dayan said.

“The State of Israel must take care of the fighters – not just that they return home with a healthy body, they must also return with their soul,” Dayan added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz had faced harsh criticism last week for saying he would call an investigation into the reasons behind Saidyan’s actions, with critics saying a previous commission had already announced recommendations that had never been implemented.

Gantz said the main points that report would be adopted, which include steps to simplify the process of recognizing disabilities with an emphasis on combat troops and said a previously approved 30 million shekel ($9 million) fund that had been delayed by politics would be immediately disbursed to help disabled soldiers.