Disabled veteran sets himself alight in Yehud

Akiva Mapiai, injured during army training over 20 years ago and now in heavy debts, told siblings he despaired of fight for rights from Defense Ministry, social welfare services.

July 22, 2012 20:17
3 minute read.
Candle-light vigil for Moshe Silman in Tel Aviv

Candle-light vigil for Moshe Silman in Tel Aviv 390. (photo credit: Michael Omer-Man)

A 45-year-old disabled IDF veteran is in critical condition after setting himself on fire in Yehud, in the central region, on Sunday.

Passersby found Akiva Mapiai, from Moshav Bareket, near Ben-Gurion Airport, at a bus stop, burning next to his wheelchair, and extinguished the flames before paramedics arrived.

He was rushed to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer with extensive burn injuries, particularly to his arms and legs.

Mapiai became disabled in a training accident at age 23, at the IDF Ground Forces Command’s Tze’elim training base in the western Negev.

In recent weeks, he told his siblings he had despaired of fighting for rehabilitation rights and other benefits as a disabled veteran from the Defense Ministry and social welfare services.

After falling into heavy debt, Mapiai decided to emulate Moshe Silman, the Haifa man who set himself on fire at the end of a social justice protest in Tel Aviv on July 14, and died on Friday.

Shlomo Mapiai, Akiva’s brother, said he had been talking in recent days about “doing what Silman did.”

Mapiai threatened suicide in the past because of the “impossible bureaucracy” involved in dealing with the Defense Ministry and social welfare authorities, the brother said.

He took part in IDF veteran rallies and hired a lawyer to help him get his benefits, a move that ended up getting him into heavy debt.

Shlomo Mapiai told Ma’ariv, “The army likes you only when you’re in the ground, not when you’re injured. The bureaucracy [one needs to get through] to get your rights means that they will not arrive on time, if at all.”

“That’s why people demonstrate and reach extreme situations and take extreme acts. And this isn’t the first time,” he added. “We gave our lives for the state and in the end they throw you away. All IDF veterans feel like a weight on society.”

Channel 2 quoted social services sources as saying Mapiai received assistance from social welfare and had received all of the benefits he was entitled to from the the National Insurance Institute. The sources said Mapiai had attempted suicide in the past and that the reasons for his act were personal.

Responding to the incident, social justice movement activist Daphni Leef said the current wave of people setting themselves on fire was disturbing and saddening.

“The despair and suffering of others is translated into violent and dangerous acts of self-harm.

These are acts of desperation, of surrender to the cruel, criminal bureaucracy that is not backed by realistic budgets for solving problems,” she said.

Leef accused the government of ignoring the plight of such desperate individuals.

She also asked for an end to acts of self-harm.

“Don’t surrender, don’t give up.

We are fighting here for a healthy society... We must focus on life,” she said. “Please, don’t hurt yourselves.”

Dudi Gilboa, a member of a veterans group who knew Mapiai, said, “His story is a difficult one, his emotional and economic situations weren’t easy.”

Gilboa told Israel Radio he and the wheelchair-bound veteran had been embroiled in a dispute with authorities in charge of rehabilitating and helping wounded veterans.

“We have mourned our friends [lost] in battle, we don’t want to lose them like this,” Gilboa said, also expressing concern that yet more people would imitate Silman.

On Sunday evening, a woman walked into a South Tel Aviv kiosk, poured flammable material on herself and threatened to set herself alight. Passersby called the police and officers prevented her from using the lighter. Officers took her into custody in the South Tel Aviv police station.

Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich on Sunday warned against setting oneself on fire as protest.

“[Silman’s] suicide cannot be allowed to become a legitimate act of protest,” she said. “Taking one’s own life is an extreme and awful act, and it cannot be idealized.”

Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon said taking such extreme measures was not the way to solve problems.

“A week ago, we set up a joint emergency task force with the National Insurance Institute to deal with extreme cases, and anyone can call in if they need help,” the minister said.

The emergency task force’s number is 118.

Ruth Eglash and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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