On Saturday evening, an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv to mark the first anniversary of J14, a movement centred around social justice and against inequality and the high cost of housing in Israel.
The march ended on Kaplan Street where a man in his 50s first distributed copies of a typed letter before pouring gasoline over his body and lighting himself on fire.
Witnesses were able to extinguish the flames, but Moshe Silman was badly injured. Later reports state that he sustained burns to more than 90 percent of his body.
Silman’s suicide letter details his financial, housing and health difficulties in addition to his anger at the state “for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich.”
The State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing
and the Tel Aviv District Court blocked me from getting justice. — registrar at the Tel Aviv District court, broke the law, disrupted legal proceedings, out of condescension.
It won’t even assist me with my rental fees
Two committees from the Ministry of Housing have rejected me, despite the fact that I have undergone a stroke and was granted 100% work disability
Ask the manager of Amidar, in Hafia, on Hanevi’im Street.
I blame the State of IsraelI blame Bibi Netanyahu
and [Minister of Finance] Yuval Steinitz
for the humiliation that disenfranchised citizens go through day in and day out, that take from the poor and give to the rich, and to public servants
those that serve the State of Israel
The National Health Insurance, especially —, the manager of their operations, and the manager of their claims department, —, on Lincoln Street in Tel Aviv, who illegally seized my work equipment for my truck.
The Haifa National Insurance Institute branch, who abused me for a year until I was granted disability
That I pay NIS 2300 per month in Health Insurance taxes and even more for my medicine
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
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the act of self-immolation a “great personal tragedy,” but the incident has much wider implications than Silman’s private suffering.
Haaretz details Silman’s decade-long struggle—a “bureaucratic nightmare”—that will sound familiar to millions of Americans.
In 2002, the National Insurance Institute (NII) bailiffs seized one of the four trucks that were used for his company due to an outstanding debt of NIS 15,000 ($3782). Silman was able to pay off a third of the debt, but then he was asked to pay an additional NIS 1,200 ($303) to cover towing expenses.
Silman was unable to reclaim the truck because of a strike at the NII, which he blames for the collapse of his business.
Six years later, he decided to sue the NII and submitted a claim for damages for NIS 8 million ($2 million) to the Tel Aviv District court.
The case was never heard in court.
Silman, the son of a Holocaust survivor, drifted aimlessly between jobs through the years, but he finally found stability and a steady income at a messenger service. However, at the end of 2000, his business was damaged by the outbreak of the second intifada, forcing Silman to move his business to a smaller warehouse and his office to his home in Jaffa. During that time, the NII continued to send him debt notices at his old address, which never reached Silman.
In 2005, after his business collapsed, Silman was forced to vacate his apartment.
He tried to support himself as a taxi driver, but quickly found he could not make ends meet. Soon, his bank account was seized, along with his savings and insurance benefits. His mother, a guarantor to his debts, was also left without her savings.
Haaretz reports the experience motivated Silman to try and organize his friends to protest the NII. On a Facebook post last March, he wrote:
I think that considering the upcoming appointment of a new general director of the NII, which is actually the Anti-Social National Insurance Institute, which has throughout the years caused the most cases of injustice by any governmental service to the weakest segments of society—and continues to do so daily—we should organize protests in front of NII offices, [exposing it] as an anti-social organization, leading the wrongdoers, conducting itself as one of the worst private insurance businesses, and not as a national social insurance [service].
Two years later, Silman’s mother died, and his health faltered, resulting in a stroke.
He moved to Haifa, trying to scrape by on a NIS 2,300 ($580) monthly disability pension (the NII absurdly categorized this as Silman’s losing only 50 percent of his working ability). Silman’s sisters helped and fed him, and yet his requests to receive public housing were consistently rejected.
Then, on July 14, Silman set himself on fire.
Haaretz posted another Facebook message from Silman written in April:
I want to tell you what I’m going through now. This morning I lost my balance, but fortunately fell on the bed and wasn’t hurt. At Rambam Medical Center, I underwent two CT scans, which negated the possibility of a stroke. Dr. Wasserman says that it was possibly my ear and wanted to send me home. She said they don’t want to treat me and I should be treated at the clinic. But I’m afraid to go home, I live alone, and I’m afraid to go home. They insist on releasing me from the hospital without medical treatment, they also threaten to call the police, and instead of receiving medical treatment I could end up in jail. So long.
Silman’s self-immolation triggered another wave of protest on Sunday night, with a crowd of 2,000 activists marching in solidarity.
Self-immolations have a global history of setting off huge protests—and even revolution, in the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his livelihood (his cart) and the humiliation he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides.
“So far this has been a middle class protest. I think [Silman’s] act will draw in the working classes,” filmmaker and activist Danny Rosenberg, 32, suggested to the Guardian. “This summer’s protests will be more concentrated—and potentially more violent.”
“I have a wife and a young kid. We both earn very well and yet we can’t afford our own home. The prices are too high so we live with our parents,” said Adi, 28, to the Guardian.”The government should do something but it probably won’t. All of these protests, 50,000 people on the streets last year, and nothing has changed.”