The Tragedy of Moshe Silman Should Not Blind Us as to the Culpability of Zionism
It is more than a terrible tragedy, that a 57 year old son of holocaust survivors died after setting himself on fire in protest at the way the Israeli state treated him. There are lessons as well as reflections on what happened and why.
Moshe Silman’s act of self-immolation will not become as well-known as that of the Tunisian man, Mohamed_Bouazizi, who set himself on fire last year. Bouzizi triggered the revolution in Tunisia which set off the Arab Spring – a veritable hurricane of protest.
Not that it matters to either man, since they are both dead. Let us leave aside the desperation that leads someone to kill themselves in this manner. Silman sustained 94% third degree burns on his body and it must have been an agonizing way to go.
|Flames rising from the site where Moshe Silman set himself aflame. (Photo: Yuval Ben-Ami)|
But we should be clear in tribute to Silman. He was killed by Netanyahu and Barak and all those who use Zionism to pretend that a Jewish nation will not be an oppressive one – even to Jews. In Israel the poor go to the wall. The welfare state has been dismantled. The experiences of Moshe Silman are detailed below in a Ha'aretz article.
Every death is tragic in some way but especially when someone is driven to kill themselves because they can see no light at the end of the tunnel. Moshe Silman was brought up in a society where racism is the norm. Zionism had no use for him any longer.
Moshe Silman may not even have thought about many of these questions until poverty and desperation led him to become involved in the J14 protests last year. Zionist supporters in Britain and the USA talk about Israel as a refuge. But it is no more than a refuge against poverty than it is against racism. Instead we see what was termed the ‘poor white’ syndrome of the USA whereby those who live in poverty are told that at least they have a white skin and can lord it over the Blacks. It doesn’t feed you, or house you or clothe you – but apparently some people feel better because of it. In Germany it mean the loweliest tramp could feel superior to a Jewish doctor. In Israel the same is true for the Jewish working-class.
Today Jewish workers and the unemployed are told to feel that if only the Palestinians suffer more then their situation will be better. When of course it is the corrupt oligarchy that runs Israel that benefits regardless of who suffers. Unity is strength, an old labour movement slogan, was never more apt.
Moshe Silman at a social protest in Haifa. Photo by Hagai Frid
The Israeli social protester was suffering from second and third-degree burns on 94 percent of his body after he set himself on fire at a protest in Tel Aviv last week.
By Revital Hovel and Dan Even | Jul.20, 2012 | 3:30 PM
Moshe Silman at a social protest in Haifa. Photo by Hagai Frid
By Revital Hovel | Jul.20,2012 | 3:30 PM | 23
Moshe Silman, the Israeli activist who set himself on fire during a social justice protest in Tel Aviv one week ago, succumbed to his wounds on Friday at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
Silman was suffering from second and third-degree burns on 94 percent of his body.
|Protesters trying to extinguish the flames from Moshe Silman, after he set himself on fire during a social justice demonstration in Tel Aviv on July 14.|
From Friday morning, activists and close friends of Silman were informed by his family that he was in his last hours. His family wanted to be surrounded by close friends, and announced that they would sit Shiva, the seven-day mourning period of an immediate family member required by Judaism, in the house of his sister in Rishon Letzion, where a mourner's tent would be set up.
The 57-year-old son of Holocaust survivors did not have an easy start. He lived 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 lived in a neglected two-room apartment on the edge of the poor Wadi Salib area of the city. The refrigerator is empty. The neighbors do not know him at all.
Friends said he believed in action and took his belief to the extreme. He was born in Israel, and has two sisters, Bat Zion Elul from Rishon Letzion and Naomi Angel, a member of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. Angel would visit him in Haifa from time to time, always bringing food. Elul said Thursday of her brother: “He was in despair. He was mired in debt. Until the last moment we helped him. But he didn’t want it. Since the day he lost everything, the day they took everything, the house, his trucks, the money, my parents’ house, he has been going downhill.”
Silman never married and had no children and so his request for public housing was repeatedly denied. He worked at odd jobs and spent a few years in the United States. On his return, he established a messenger service and things finally began to look up. But then, toward the end of 2000, his business was hurt by the outbreak of the second intifada. He moved the business to a smaller warehouse and his office to his home in Jaffa. It later turned out that the National Insurance Institute’s debt notices never reached him, because they were sent to his former address. In 2002, the institute seized one of the four trucks he used for his company. The reason: a debt of NIS 15,000. Silman paid a third of the debt to reclaim his truck, but then he was asked to pay a further NIS 1,200 to cover towing expenses. Silman could not reclaim the truck due to a strike at the institute, and says that it led to the business’ collapse. Later, in 2005, he was forced to evacuate his apartment.
A history of court battles
Together with his mother, Sarah, Silman decided in 2008 to sue the National Insurance Institute. He and his mother claimed damages of NIS 8 million because of the seizure of his trucks that he said led to the loss of his business. But to file the suit he needed to pay a court fee, which he said he could not afford.
The court turned down his request to waive the fee and the case was never heard. The court registrar called Silman’s claim “baseless.” Silman appealed the decision to the Tel Aviv District Court, but it was turned down in 2010.
In a Facebook post last March, Silman urged his friends to organize protests against the institute: “I think that considering the upcoming appointment of a new director general 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,” he wrote.
Silman began working as a taxi driver, but made very little money, according to an affidavit and documents, submitted with his damages claim against the institute.
Meanwhile, as his financial situation worsened, his bank account was seized, and all his savings and insurance benefits were either seized or used to pay his debts, estimated at hundreds of thousands of shekels. Silman’s mother, a guarantor of his debts, was also left without savings. In order to save her apartment, she legally transferred it to her daughters, free of charge. The court registrar who rejected Silman’s plea to be exempt from the court fee to file his damages suite wrote: “Someone who used this route of property smuggling cannot be heard afterward saying that he cannot pay the court fee.”
After losing his driver’s license because of his debts, his health began to deteriorate. The NII assessed his loss of ability to work at 50 percent and gave him only a limited allowance. Avri Raviv, who went with Silman several times to the institute said: “Like the cliche says, the handwriting was on the wall. Silman threatened suicide more than once to them. The representative of the psychiatric committee told me that people who threaten, don’t do it.”
But then, last summer’s social protest put wind in Silman’s sails. He began to participate regularly in rallies and became well known in Haifa’s small activist community. Idit Lev, who was one of the people closest to him, said: “He was always trying to turn over one stone and then another, to see if he could move ahead somehow.”
He spent his days looking for work, in endless lines at the health maintenance organization and in attempts to fight the Housing Ministry for help with rent. He filed four such applications with attorney Becky Cohen-Keshet, all of which were rejected on the grounds that he once owned an apartment and had no children. A fellow activist said after Silman set fire to himself Saturday night: “Moshe chose to harm himself in protest. It’s terrible when a person has to commit an act like that to explain their situation to people.”
See also this excellent article.Moshe Silman’s flames should not die with memorial candles http://972mag.com/silmans-flames-should-not-die-with-memorial-candles/51520/