In the span of a single week, two Israeli men have lit themselves on fire because they were overwhelmed by debt.
Moshe Silman handed out a suicide letter blaming the state of Israel, Bibi Netenyahu and Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz for his desperation before he poured gasoline over his clothing and lit himself on fire during at the end of a July 14 protest in Tel Aviv.
I previously wrote about the bureaucratic nightmare Silman endured: losing his job and his apartment, and fighting to scrape by on a monthly disability pension while being crushed by outstanding debt.
I have no money for medicine or rent. I can’t make the money after I have paid my millions in taxes I did the army, and until age 46 I did reserve duty
I refuse to be homeless, this is why i am protesting
Against all the injustices done to me by the State, me and others like me
On the same day Silman was laid to rest, another Israeli man committed the act of self-immolation to escape crushing debt.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the AP that a disabled Israel Defence Forces veteran in his mid-40s set himself ablaze Sunday near a bus stop in central Israel. Like in the case of Silman, witnesses tried to extinguish the flames and he was rushed to the hospital with severe burns.
Akiva Mafa’i was recognized as 25 percent disabled following an injury incurred during a car accident nine years ago. Several years later, Mafa’i had a stroke, could not work, and relied on benefits from the Defense Ministry, and like Silman, the National Insurance Institute.
Mafa’i took the drastic step after he participated in a demonstration Saturday night in front of the National Insurance Institute offices in Tel Aviv. “He was desperate, and, unfortunately, did what Silman did,” Mafa’i’s brother said.
According to his brother, Mafa’i left home at 5 A.M., as he often does, and waited at a bus station in Yehud, not far from his home, for the taxi that takes him to a clinic that treats disabled veterans. He apparently bought a canister of gasoline at a nearby gas station, and while waiting at the bus stop he poured the gas on himself and ignited it.
Mafa’i’s brother, Shlomo, remarked that he was not surprised by the act.
“I feel everything the disabled IDF veterans are saying. We grew up in a home that contributes to the state, and continues to contribute. We gave our lives to the state, and in the end they throw you out. The IDF disabled veterans feel like a burden on society; that’s our frustration. When you’re called to reserve duty, you leave everything and go to serve the state with love, and in the end when something happens to you, you’re left on your own,” Shlomo Mafa’i said.
Dudu Gilboa from the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization spoke with Mafa’i before the incident and told Haaretz his “psychological state was poor and he had lots of debt,” and “he’s been talking for a while about harming himself. He lives alone, it’s hard for him and he doesn’t know how to deal with the problems.”
She added that Mafa’i felt that he had given his all to the state and the state had abandoned him. “The Defense Ministry and the National Insurance Institute didn’t take care of him,” Gilboa told Harretz.
The disabled veterans organization expressed concern to Haaretz that this might not be the last such case, and the organization “represents many disabled people who unfortunately feel abandoned by the system and whose legal rights have been slashed unilaterally.”
According to the AP, the organization is right to fear copycats. Spokesman Rosenfeld stated that four Israelis have attempted or threatened to set themselves on fire since Silman’s act.
The Defense Ministry responded by claiming there is no connection between Mafa’i’s self-immolation and his military disability, which the ministry calls the treatment of the “professional, responsible, and devoted.”