Suicide as desperate protest in Israel

This video is called Moshe Silman‘s letter read by Israeli activists July 14, 2012.

It says about itself:

Israeli activists read the letter left by Moshe Silman, minutes after he set himself on fire, during a social justice demo, July 14, 2012

The letter reads:

“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. The 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 Haifa, on Hanevi’im Street.

I blame the State of Israel.

I blame Bibi Netanyahu and [Minister of Finance] Yuval Steinitz,
both scum, 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.”

(translation by

By Patrick Martin:

Israeli man immolates himself over social crisis

18 July 2012

Moshe Silman, 57, was near death Tuesday, comatose and with his organs failing, doctors reported, three days after he set himself on fire during a Tel Aviv protest demonstration over worsening social conditions in Israel.

Silman, who owned a successful truck delivery business until he was ruined by debts and ill health, had been a regular participant in the protest movement that began last year over the rising cost of living and cuts in social programs and benefits. He was part of a crowd of several thousand who turned out Saturday to mark the first anniversary of those protests.

As speakers addressed the group, Silman began to douse himself with gasoline, then set himself ablaze. Fellow protesters swarmed around him trying to extinguish the fire with their shirts and water bottles, but he was burned over 90 percent of his body.

Silman left a typewritten suicide note in which he blamed the state of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz for “the humiliation that the weakened citizens of Israel endure on a daily basis” and for “taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”

He accused the government of destroying his ability to make a living and driving him to the brink of homelessness. “The state of Israel stole from me and robbed me,” he wrote. “They left me with nothing.” He added, “And I will not be homeless and this is why I protest.”

According to accounts in the Israeli press, Silman’s truck transport firm went out of business after a dispute with the National Insurance Institute, an Israeli government agency, over tax issues. First his trucks were seized to pay off debts, then his bank accounts and finally the home his mother left him on her death.

After a stroke, he was forced to go on disability, with a monthly payment of just 2,300 shekels ($581 a month in a country with a cost of living comparable to the US). He was denied permission to drive a taxi part-time for health reasons, his disability payments were stopped altogether in December for six months and he was then declared ineligible for public housing. He faced eviction from his apartment in two weeks.

Silman’s brother Amron Elul, speaking to the media outside the hospital where Silman lay dying, said, “He was born in Israel, he served in the army for seven years and after that did many years of reserve duty. He never bothered anyone, yet the state took everything from him—his business, his home—and in the end, no one was willing to help him.”

The self-immolation protest has had a shock effect throughout Israeli society. On Sunday, several thousand people marched in Tel Aviv in a show of sympathy. At a rally in Haifa, where Silman lived, demonstrators carried signs declaring, “The entire nation is Moshe Silman.”

Others gathered outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem under a banner that read, “We’re all Moshe Silman: The blood is on the Government’s hands,” and carrying signs that read, “Bibi, you burned us, too.”

According to a commentary published on the Israeli news site Ynet, Silman’s descent into economic ruin and disability coincided with drastic cuts in disability allowances imposed by Netanyahu as finance minister in 2004-2005. The impact of budget cuts on health care was demonstrated by the fact that “When Silman was taken to the hospital’s burn ward there was no bed for him. The department was at full capacity, as is the case with many other Israeli hospital wards. Silman had to be hospitalized in another ward.”

Moreover, according to a study by Calcalist, issued last month, 63 percent of “middle class” Israelis would not be able to withstand a one-time emergency expense of 8,000 shekels ($2,000), making the majority of the population vulnerable to the type of crisis that destroyed Moshe Silman.

A second man attempted to copy Silman’s suicide attempt on Monday in the city of Be’er Sheva, in southern Israel. The 47-year-old doused himself with a flammable liquid, but a security guard alertly jumped on him and prevented another tragedy. The man had recently asked the public housing authority to provide him shelter, according to one report.

The Israeli political establishment has responded to Silman’s tragic protest with typical indifference and contempt. Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed the action as “an individual tragedy”—i.e., one with no wider social meaning—and his official spokesman added that the attempted suicide was a “humanitarian situation and has nothing to do with politics.”

While every suicide is indeed an individual act with individual motives, already in the nineteenth century French sociologist Emile Durkheim pointed out the social (including political) background of these individual acts.

A spokesman for the mayor of Tel Aviv was at pains to point out that Silman was an “outsider” who was not from the city. He wrote: “While this tragic incident took place in Tel Aviv, it really has nothing to do with the city establishment. The person who lit himself came from outside of Tel Aviv to protest in a large manifestation which took place in the city.”

Opposition Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich said that Silman “definitely must not be seen as a symbol of the social justice protest.”

But according to one Tel Aviv official, 400 people a year commit suicide in Israel because of economic hardship: in effect, a Moshe Silman every day of the year.

The Israeli Ministry of Welfare and Social Services and the National Insurance Institute announced the establishment of a team “to resolve exceptional incidents that go beyond the tools we have at our disposal” as well as a hotline to “treat and assist complex cases.” The purpose of such cosmetic gestures is to minimize future embarrassment to the government over the devastating impact of the economic crisis and its own right-wing social policies.

From daily Haaretz in Israel:

Moshe Silman, 57, the son of Holocaust survivors, did not have an easy start. He lives alone, and according to friends tried to get ahead in life and live in dignity. But a small debt to the National Insurance Institute grew and sent him into an economic and bureaucratic tailspin that ended in self-immolation Saturday night on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street in front of the cameras.

“Moshe was simply not willing for the State of Israel to run him over anymore,” a friend said.

Silman’s friends were not surprised to hear what he did. The decision to set himself on fire because the state would not help him overcome his economic difficulties was in character for him, they said, especially considering his despair. “There was protest in his soul,” said a friend who went to rallies with Silman in Haifa. “He waited for it to break out and was glad when it did,” the friend added.

Two years ago Silman moved from Bat Yam to Haifa. As his economic situation deteriorated he became more and more involved in the protests in Haifa. The activists he met at the protest tent on the Carmel last summer became his best friends. “He was a man of action. He said you have to be political and get elected anywhere possible,” said Yossi Baruch, a Haifa activist.

According to friends, Silman lives in a neglected two-room apartment on the edge of the poor Wadi Salib area of the city. The refrigerator is empty.

His suicide note is eloquent testimony to two things: how even a moderately successful small businessman can be plunged into abject poverty under the impact of the deepening crisis of Israeli and world capitalism, and, secondly, the casual indifference of the political class and the state authorities: here.

Israel plunged toward a political crisis after Kadima, the largest party in the government coalition, pulled out last night: here.

6 thoughts on “Suicide as desperate protest in Israel

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  5. Emile Durkheim passes away on November 15 2017. Durkheim was a founding figure in the discipline of sociology and a leading intellectual in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was close to the leader of the French socialist party, Jean Juares (assassinated in 1914 for his opposition to the war), although he devoted himself to developing an anti-Marxist analysis of capitalist society that denies the central role of class conflict.

    A supporter of France in World War I, in 1916 Durkheim authored “Germany Above All: The German Mental Attitude and the War,” which declared Berlin and German nationalism a disease in the European social order and the cause of the war. However, Durkheim was evidently sympathetic to Russia’s revolutionaries. In August of that year, in his capacity as head of the French Commission for Russian Refugees, Durkheim warned Trotsky and the Nashe Slovo group that they were about to be expelled from the country, giving them time to prepare.


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