Israeli man’s self-immolation recalls start of Arab Spring
People try to extinguish a man who set himself alight in Tel Aviv during a rally marking the anniversary of demonstrations to protest the high cost of living. AP photo
An Israeli man sustained serious burns after he poured flammable liquid on himself and lit it while at a protest against the economic policies of the conservative government July 14 in Tel Aviv, police said.
“From what I understand, he claimed money had been taken from him. Obviously he did it for financial reasons, though further details are not yet clear,” said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld. He said the protestor, whose name is Moshe Silman according to Israeli dailies, was around 40-years-old, Agence France-Presse reported.
“He left photocopies in the street of a letter that he had read out loud before setting himself on fire,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. “For us, it’s an attempted suicide,” she said.
Witnesses quoted by the news website Ynet also said Silman had read the letter out loud before soaking himself with a flammable liquid and setting fire to himself.
“The Israeli state has stolen from me and left me nothing,” said the letter, quoted on Ynet.
“I accuse Israel, [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and [Finance Minister] Yuval Steinitz for the constant humiliation that the citizens of Israel must endure on a daily basis,” the letter continued. “They take from the poor to give to the rich,” it said. Netanyahu called the event as a “great personal tragedy” and yesterday had asked Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias to look into Silman’s case, Ynet reported.
According to reports, Silman owed the Tax Authority and National Insurance Institute of Israel about $3,800, but procedural errors and lost court cases against the authorities caused the debt to expand. Silman owned a small delivery service and could not meet the debt. Eventually he lost his apartment.
“My brother was a businessman, but he failed and they took everything away from him,” Silman’s sister, Bat Tzion, said.
The City of Haifa said local welfare authorities had assisted Silman, who suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago. Since then he has been living off monthly disability stipends.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed footage of the man on fire. People crowded around, trying to put out the flames with shirts and water.
Cases of self-immolation as a form of protest are rare in Israel, and it was not immediately clear what prompted the man to set himself alight.
Police estimated that around 8,000 people took part in two separate marches on the evening of July 14. Hundreds of protesters also turned out in Jerusalem and Haifa.
The demonstrations were to mark the first anniversary of mass protests against the spiraling cost of living.
Marchers in Tel Aviv shouted slogans calling for Netanyahu’s resignation.
After the initial wave of protests last year, in which hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, the government set up a committee to look at reforms to meet the grievances of the protesters. In parallel with the main march, about a thousand people marched elsewhere in Tel Aviv, police said.
Efforts in recent months to reinvigorate the protest movement have only managed to get a few thousand demonstrators out on the streets, a far cry from last September, when nearly half a million Israelis marched in protest.