The number of wounded Israeli soldiers is increasing, a hidden cost of the war

Ramat Gan, Israel (AP) — Igor Teodoran spent just 12 hours inside the Gaza Strip Before a missile fell on his tank, causing him to suffer a life-changing injury.

“I already understood inside the tank from the condition of my legs that I would lose them. I am suffering from extreme hunger,” he said, sitting on a bed in the hospital where he has been treated since his injury last month. “But the question is how much of it will I lose?”

Todoran, 27, a reservist who volunteered to serve after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas that led to the war, lost his right leg below his hip. He maintained a positive attitude, but acknowledged that his hopes of becoming an electrician may no longer be possible.

Todoran is part of a growing number of wounded Israeli fighters, another large number A segment of Israeli society suffers from deep shock whose struggles emerge as a hidden cost of war, which will be keenly felt for years to come. Given the large numbers of wounded, advocates worry that the country is not prepared to meet their needs.

“I've never seen a scale like this and intensity like this,” said Aidan Kleiman, who heads the nonprofit Disabled Veterans, which advocates on behalf of more than 50,000 soldiers wounded in this and previous conflicts. “We must rehabilitate these people,” he added.

The Israeli Defense Ministry says nearly 3,000 members of the country's security forces have been wounded since Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking 240 people hostage. Nearly 900 of those soldiers have been wounded since Israel began its ground offensive in late October, with troops clashing during close combat with Hamas militants. More than 160 soldiers have been killed since the start of the ground operation.

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“They add more,” Yagil Levy, who studies civil-military relations at the Open University of Israel, said of the wounded. “There could be a long-term impact if we see a large percentage of people with disabilities that Israel has to rehabilitate, which could lead to economic issues as well as social issues.”

The war also brought unprecedented suffering to Palestinians in Gaza, with more than 21,000 people killed and nearly 55,000 injured. Amputations have become common. Most of the residents of the small enclave have been displaced.

Israelis still largely stand behind the war's aims, and it is mostly seen as an existential battle aimed at restoring a sense of security lost due to Hamas attacks. The media barely covers this suffering The Palestinians suffer from it, and their plight hardly appears in Israeli public discourse.

In a country that applies compulsory military service to most Jews, The fate of the soldiers It is a sensitive and emotional topic.

The names of fallen soldiers are announced at the top of the hourly newscast. Their funerals are full of strangers who come to show solidarity. Their families receive generous support from the army.

But historically, the plight of the wounded, despite being hailed as heroes, has taken a back seat to the stories of soldiers killed in battle. As the hype surrounding their stories of service and survival subsides, the wounded are left to face a new reality that can be confusing, difficult, and, for some, lonely. Their numbers did not have a significant impact on public sentiment toward Israel's wars, as did the increasing death toll among soldiers.

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However, the exceptionally large numbers of wounded in this war will provide a vivid reminder of the conflict for years to come.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized their sacrifice during his recent visit to wounded soldiers at Sheba Medical Center, the largest hospital in Israel, which treated and rehabilitated many of the wounded. “You are real heroes,” he said.

In Chiba, soldiers and civilians wounded in the war took to the trails on a recent day and spent time with their families on an outdoor deck. Football equipment decorated the beds of wounded soldiers in hospitals, as did the ubiquitous Israeli flag.

A man who lost his leg after being attacked at the Nova Music Festival on October 7 lay in the sun on the hospital grounds, his wheelchair parked nearby. Israeli pop singer Rita distributed hugs to some of the wounded soldiers. A military helicopter carrying more wounded landed nearby.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense said it was working “at full capacity” to help the wounded, and that it was working to reduce red tape and appoint staff to deal with the influx.

Jonathan Ben Hammou, 22, who lost his left leg below the knee after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the bulldozer he was using to help clear the way for other troops, is already looking forward to the day when he can use a state-funded force. Industrial.

Ben Hammou, who has mostly used a wheelchair since the accident in early November, said he plans to eventually achieve his goal of attending a course for military leaders.

Ben Hammou, who filmed the moment the RPG shell hit and was taken to the hospital, said: “I am not ashamed of the wound.” “I was wounded for the sake of the homeland in a war inside Gaza. I'm proud.”

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But Kleiman, who was himself injured in an operation in the Gaza Strip in the early 1990s, said he believes the Israeli authorities do not realize the seriousness of the situation.

A group of disabled veterans is ramping up efforts to address what it suspects will be overwhelming needs for a new cadre of wounded soldiers. He said the organization is tripling its workforce, adding therapists and staff to help wounded veterans navigate bureaucracy and modernize rehabilitation centers.

Kleiman said the number injured would likely reach nearly 20,000 once those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are included.

If wounded soldiers do not receive the mental and physical care they need, including easier access to their homes or vehicles, it could hinder their rehabilitation and delay or even prevent their return to the workforce, he said.

“There are wounded whose lives have been destroyed,” said Aidit Shafran Gitelman, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank in Tel Aviv. “They will have to deal with their hurt for the rest of their lives.”

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