Israel’s Military Veterans Demand Reform and Rehabilitation
Disabled former soldiers protest the government’s failure to allocate funds to help those wounded in combat or suffering from PTSD
Hundreds of Israeli veterans, many wounded in combat or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted to enter the nation’s parliament building and confronted police in the streets of Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Veterans, their families and dozens of activists were protesting the government’s announcement on Tuesday that it had failed to secure the compensations and funds promised to the groups last month.
The long-awaited reform, meant to allocate hundreds of millions of shekels to disabled veterans and those suffering from combat-related trauma, has been stuck for years in legislative pipelines. It recently captured headlines when ex-soldier Itzik Saidian lit himself on fire in front of a veterans agency office in early April.
Saidian, who for years had not received the required financial support from the agency, remains in critical condition. He has quickly become the face of the protest movement.
Shortly after the horrific incident, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with veterans representatives, promising to lead a comprehensive overhaul of the system for veterans and come up with the needed money within two weeks.
But on Tuesday, just before the deadline set by the prime minister was due to expire, the Finance Ministry admitted its budget talks with the Defense Ministry over the much-anticipated reform had imploded.
They should be ashamed of themselves. It’s disgraceful. The government sent us to fight and defend our country, and then it stabs us in the back when the time comes to take care of us
“We are here to tell our members of Knesset: You are injuring us a second time with your indifference,” Avi, a 62-year-old veteran who took part in Wednesday’s demonstration, told The Media Line.
“They should be ashamed of themselves. It’s disgraceful. The government sent us to fight and defend our country, and then it stabs us in the back when the time comes to take care of us,” he said.
Reuven, another veteran participating in the protests in the capital, warned that his friends “would not rest until justice is done.”
“We’ve waited long enough. We’re tired of empty promises,” he told The Media Line. “People are dying, people are hurting, what could be more important than helping soldiers who are injured, physically and mentally?”
The large rally in front of the Knesset eventually split into several groups, with hundreds of protesters setting off on a march through the city streets, blocking roads and causing huge delays and traffic jams.
The rest remained near parliament, waiting for the meeting between Idan Kliman, head of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, and Finance Minister Israel Katz to end.
“We had an excellent talk,” Kliman told reporters upon exiting the building. “The minister compromised as much as he could, we’re very pleased with how it went.”
“He promised us that tomorrow the government will convene and approve the reform, the technical details will be settled by them, that’s not our problem,” he added.
We’ve waited long enough. We’re tired of empty promises. People are dying, people are hurting, what could be more important than helping soldiers who are injured, physically and mentally?
A Defense Ministry official earlier Wednesday blamed his colleagues in the Finance Ministry for the budget fiasco, saying Netanyahu and his fellow party member Katz had “lied to our veterans, and they bear the full responsibility for not passing the reform.”
“Discussions were held, decisions were made, but those two chose to back off and desert,” the official was quoted as saying by Israel’s Channel 12 news.
The main point of contention between the ministries remains who will foot the bill, with the Defense Ministry demanding the Finance Ministry provide the required 350 million shekels, or over $107 million, and vice versa.
“The ‘plan’ that the Defense Ministry presented, without consulting other government offices and without showing how to pay for it, is totally impractical,” Katz said on Tuesday after word of the negotiations’ collapse got out.
Over 100,000 Israelis are considered either disabled or suffering from PTSD due to their military service.