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Originally published at Tikkun Daily |

Around ten thousand protesters marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, marking the one-year anniversary of Israel's social justice protests (while hundreds more marched in cities across the country).

Protest for social justice, Tel Aviv, Israel, 14.7.2012
              Israelis fill Tel Aviv's streets, marking one year of social justice protests.
The protests, which continue to focus on social and economic inequalities within Israel, have also been infused with more political tones of late. However, tonight's march was rather uneventful up until the march's conclusion.

It was at that point a 52-year-old Israeli man, Moshe Silman, set himself on fire after handing out a letter to fellow protesters, part of which read:

The State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing...

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...

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.

Protest for social justice, Tel Aviv, Israel, 14.7.2012
Protesters extinguish flames that engulfed Moshe Silman after he set himself on fire.
A crowd of social justice protesters gathered outside the hospital where Silman -- whose condition is dire -- was taken, and a march has already been planned for Sunday from his home to municipal offices in Haifa.

On Silman, Haaretz added this:

Ofer Barkan, a social protest activist from Haifa, said that the man was an activist in last year’s protests. “We met him last summer,” Barkan said, “he was a completely normative person who lived in Tel Aviv but then his business went under. He became a cab driver and suffered a stroke which left him unemployed. He moved from Tel Aviv to Haifa because he could not afford life in the city.” According to Barkan, he had threatened to light himself on fire multiple times. “We felt that he was close to do it, but we didn’t know,” he added.
Silman's self-immolation has quickly become the central story in Israel, and its resonance is worth considering. Self-destructive protests, particularly those in which individuals intentionally harm themselves, reflect back to us the unspeakable desperation of the powerless such that we are unable to look away.

We can turn away from the homeless. From those barely able to survive in the shadows. But we cannot turn away from a hunger striker, growing emaciated in public, and we cannot avert our eyes from one who has set himself ablaze, no matter the mental state that may have led to such an act.

For their suffering not only becomes a painful metaphor for all that is wrong, it also becomes a shocking visual image, branded on the psyche, that symbolizes what must be repaired.

There is no question that Israel's social justice protests have returned. And while questions remain as to how far they will spread and whether they will co-opt geopolitical issues (such as the occupation), the question that remains this evening is this: how much power and societal impact will Silman's act of desperation have in the days and weeks ahead?

May he recover, and soon.

Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

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Originally posted to Writing by David Harris Gershon on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 06:26 PM PDT.

Also republished by Adalah — A Just Middle East.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Imagine in the United States (10+ / 0-)
    He became a cab driver and suffered a stroke which left him unemployed.
    Imagine if he were an American without insurance, what his despair would be.  At least Israel has universal access to health care for its citizens.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 06:43:04 PM PDT

  •  This news seems to have an uncanny resonance (6+ / 0-)

    with Mohammed Bouazizi's self-immolation that provided the spark for the Tunisian revolution.

    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 07:25:28 PM PDT

    •  Yes, and I have to say, that without (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, Kinak, AaronInSanDiego, elwior

      more information, I'm going to be a bit skeptical.  There's no question in my mind about the damage that neoliberalism has done to Israeli society, and there's no question in my mind about the damage that the Occupation has done to Israelis and to Palestinians.  

      However, I'm hesitant to read large social implications into this singular act, no matter how tempting it is to do, especially because of the resonance to what you mention here and to other similar acts (I'm thinking also about the monks in Vietnam or in Tibet who set themselves on fire).  

      Here's something more from +972:

      A 2008 account on the Israeli financial site “Economist” surfaced online following the incident, and appears to detail some of his troubles: according to the text, the man sued the National Insurance Institute after it seized his five trucks, which he used to run a delivery company, over a NIS 5,000 debt. The result, he claimed in the suit, was the collapse of his business and ultimate financial ruin.
      I'm sorry to say this, and I hope I'm wrong, but without more information, this reads to me as if it's possible that it's the right-wing narrative of the big evil government that picks on little people who are trying to get ahead.  I type this, and I know how awful that probably sounds, but my point is: We don't know enough to make any conclusions other than something horrible happened to this individual and there are real social and political and economic problems in Israel that are causing millions of people, Israeli and Palestinian, an awful lot of hurt.
      •  I agree, AM. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Martha, elwior

        I think skepticism is absolutely justified, but sometimes the precise details behind a particular despairing action may recede somewhat and the action itself become a catalyst for a larger movement.

        Have there been any other such acts of self-immolation by Israelis? People more knowledgeable can let the rest of us know.

        The world is somewhat used to Tibetan monks doing this, in Tibet, or in Delhi, or others protesting the Iraq War (in Chicago, for instance) and not paying much attention--unhappily for all of us! But its the first time I have read of an Israeli doing so, and there may be unexpected repercussions.  

        It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

        by poco on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 08:41:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thank you, poco! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco, elwior

          I was really hesitant to write that, as it just feels so callous and I don't mean it that way at all.  I think it's important to talk about, and to act to alleviate, those larger social and political inequalities, both here and abroad.  So whatever Silman's individual motivations, I hope the repercussions lead to a larger good.  I just don't think we know enough to say what those motivations were.

          And no, I haven't heard of an Israeli doing this.  I hope none of us ever become inured to it, although I suspect you're right that, sadly, it's already happened to an extent.

      •  Neoliberal???? (0+ / 0-)

        Israel still has one of the best universal health care systems in the world.

        University tuition remains low.

        The government still controls almost all land in the country.

        The labor movement is still very strong -- so strong that most Israelis are sick and tired of the strikes that seem to occur almost monthly.

        Tax rates are FAR higher than the US.

        Public transit goes everywhere -- it is very easy in Israel to live a middle class life with no automobile. Which of course are heavily taxed.

        Israel still has a huge welfare system, with a huge fraction of the population receiving cash benefits while not working.

        Israel has draconian regulations on its banks, who could never precipitate anything like the crash of 2008. Banks are required to be banks, not casinos.

        Israel has probably the easiest immigration of any country in the world. Jews get immediate citizenship, non-Jews after only three years residency. Immigrants also get big benefits, including intensive Hebrew language lessons. And those immigrants in are of every race from every corner of the world.

        And the entire social welfare system is available to all -- Jews and non-Jews, of any racial/ethnic group.

        I could go on, but you get the picture.


        Every commenter on DKos who isn't one of the Israelhaters would LOVE for the US to have the kind of socioeconomic policies that Israel continues to maintain.

        •  Kung Fu Jew @ Jewschool (hardly an "Israel hater") (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elwior, Diane Gee

          … has this to say about Israel's asylum policy:
          Asylum seekers in Israel's "production line" of rejection

          I have a high emotional tolerance for disturbing stories of Israel’s shortcomings. But few topics so abjectly horrified me as this detailed report about Israel’s treatment of African asylum seekers. Racism against non-Jews in Israel has long angered me and politicians’ stoking it into recent violence did shock me. But this report broke my battle-hardened heart open again. Since the Tel Aviv riots, conservative hasbaraists and politicians have tried to portray Israel as a country willing to accept a reasonable number of refugees but drowning in illegal entrants. The truth is painfully to the contrary.

          Israeli NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers produced this analysis earlier this year of the Interior Ministry’s department for refugee protection. The report, Until Our Hearts Are Completely Hardened, details in clinical dispassion how the Interior Ministry has corrupted a process intended to protect refugees’ lives and runs it like an interrogation. It created a system that bulk rejects even the most dire cases — all but eight of 4,178 asylum applicants since it began operating the past two years.

          In the report’s own words, Israel’s process is “worrying,” “patently unreasonable,” and a “manufacturing of contradictions.” Its staff are engaged in “unprofessional and problematic work,” “absurd,” a “failure in deduction powers,” and “inappropriate.” It creates a situation that is “bleak,” “biased,” and “unfair and degrading.” The report concludes:

          When comparing this data with data in other countries, we cannot but reach the conclusion that something has gone terribly wrong with the Israeli asylum system, and that it is not qualified to identify those people who face the threat of persecution in their countries of origin . . . Without these [recommended changes], Israel’s asylum system will continue to send people back to their death.
          What emerges is a picture of a purposefully biased, cruel, and farcical system that rejects asylum seekers at a rate higher than 99.9% — the worst in the Western world.
          Accurate? Inaccurate? Discuss.

          The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

          by lotlizard on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 10:48:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  That's not... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, Aunt Martha

    (because of close personal experience, people lighting themselves on fire is, for me, the most troubling thing that exists)

    that's not a damn popsicle in his hand, is it?

  •  David, this might interest you re "no occupation": (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elwior, poco

    "Kung Fu Jew" at the Jewschool blog weighs in on the Levy commission's report.

    This week, the Netanyahu government set the stage for a clash with its closest allies, the international community and its own Supreme Court by commissioning a kangaroo court to rule on the authorization of settlements in the Palestinian territories. Filled with political appointees and headed by pro-settlement former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, the surprising (or unsurprising?) recommendation of the “Levy report” [link to report in Hebrew] is that there is, in fact, no occupation.

    Plus, Uri Avnery reminisces about three prime ministers of Israel: Shamir, Olmert, and Netanyahu.

    Yitzhak Shamir died two weeks ago and was buried in the cemetery of the "Great of the Nation" in Jerusalem. He was 97 years old and had been vegetating for years in a state of dementia. Most Israelis did not know that he was still alive.

    When I described him on TV as "the most successful terrorist of the 20th century," the interviewer raised his eyebrows. But it was an accurate description.

    Shamir was not a great thinker. In his teens he joined the right-wing Zionist youth organization of Vladimir Jabotinsky in Poland, and since then he did not change his world-view one iota. In this respect he was absolutely immovable. He wanted a Jewish state in all of the historical country. Period. No nonsense about Arabs and such.

    We both joined the Irgun underground at the same time. I was too young to take part in actual terrorist actions; he, eight years my senior, carried them out. At the time, the Irgun killed scores of Arab men, women and children in attacks on Arab markets, in retaliation for Arab attacks on Jewish civilians. We defied the policy of "self-restraint" ordered by the Zionist leadership.

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war.

    by lotlizard on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 11:01:54 PM PDT

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