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Netanya burial society refused to bury IDF veteran who self-immolated

An IDF veteran who died after self-immolating has been refused burial in the coastal city of Netanya where he lived, because his official address was listed in Tel Aviv, Hebrew media reported Friday.

Bar Kalaf, 33, set himself on fire at his home Tuesday after his application to be recognized as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was denied by the Defense Ministry.

According to the law, an individual is entitled to a free burial in the city where they died or resided. For burial in other locations, they must pay a fee.

The Netanya chevra kadisha, which oversees burials, refused to bury Kalaf in the city even in exchange for payment, despite the fact both he and his mother have lived in the coastal city in recent years, the Ynet news site reported.

The burial service told Ynet that the request could not be granted, due to a high volume of demand from Tel Aviv residents who want to be laid to rest in Netanya.

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“If we give a spot to one, everyone will come,” the service’s director said, adding the demand was due to the fact the city does not yet bury its dead on multiple levels.

Kochava Arava, the mother of IDF veteran Bar Kalaf, who died from wounds after self-immolating, August 3, 2023. (Ynet video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Kalaf’s mother Kochava Arava and a friend of her son’s had raised NIS 42,000 ($11,500) to pay to bury Bar in the city, according to the report.

Arava, who is under financial stress, is determined to have her son buried close by, Ynet said, adding that it was even a challenge for her to travel to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan where her son was treated for two days after self-immolating.

Kalaf, who served in the military between 2008 and 2011 and as a reservist during the 2014 Gaza war, was homeless for some time after his release.

The veteran lived in Netanya by himself in recent years, but his official address remained in Tel Aviv, where he resided before his service.

The Religious Services Ministry later intervened to find Kalaf a burial plot in the nearby Moshav Avihail,  Ynet reported.

After his military service, Kalaf submitted an application to be recognized as a wounded vet, which would have made him eligible for state support and benefits.

The Defense Ministry on Thursday said it “shares in the grief of the Kalaf family over Bar Kalaf’s death.”

This photo shows first responders in the coastal city of Netanya on August 1, 2023, where a man was seriously hurt after setting himself on fire. (Courtesy)

“Kalaf’s request was thoroughly examined by the best psychiatrists of the Defense Ministry, and no connection was found between his mental illness, which is not PTSD, and his military service,” it said.

A Defense Ministry source claimed that according to mental health experts, “There are a number of mental illnesses that occur with young people up to the age of 30. These illnesses are not related to military service.”

In April, hours before Israel marked its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, an IDF veteran attempted to set fire to a Defense Ministry office that handles the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. The ministry at the time said the man was apparently disgruntled as his application to be recognized as a wounded veteran had been dismissed in 2013.

Two years ago, IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan self-immolated outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Rehabilitation Department for disabled soldiers, in a case that attracted national attention to the plight of IDF veterans traumatized by events that happened during their military service.

Saidyan, who has since mostly recovered, said he had struggled for years to receive the care he’d requested for PTSD, which he said stemmed from his service in the military.

The Defense Ministry’s treatment of wounded veterans came under intense scrutiny following Saidyan’s grim protest.

Veterans and their advocates have long maligned the department as providing woefully insufficient care and subjecting applicants to a bureaucracy so convoluted and tortuous that many are required to hire expensive lawyers to help them navigate the system.

Following Saidyan’s self-immolation and the accompanying outcry, the Defense Ministry has been implementing some reforms that it had been considering for years but had not had the political will to carry out.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.