We are all Moshe Silman

The public suicide attempt in the demonstration marking one year since the start of Israel's social protest is a watershed for the movement. No longer does the protest express the frustrations of the Tel Aviv “sushi-eaters.” Now it expresses the extreme hardships of the masses, trodden underfoot by the state, driven to their last crust. And behind them are hundreds of thousands who stand on the brink, fearing a fate like that of Moshe Silman.

The public suicide attempt in the demonstration marking one year since the start of Israel’s social protest is a watershed for the movement. No longer does the protest express the frustrations of the Tel Aviv “sushi-eaters.” Now it expresses the extreme hardships of the masses, trodden underfoot by the state, driven to their last crust. And behind them are hundreds of thousands who stand on the brink, fearing a fate like that of Moshe Silman.

During the demonstration of July 14, something fundamental changed in Israel. Protest-movement activist Moshe Silman, aged 57, set himself alight in an act of despair after authorities had slammed all doors in his face. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to present the case as the personal tragedy of a lone man, but anyone with eyes in his head knows otherwise. On that day, we of the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN) marched together with Silman, side by side with thousands of other activists demanding social justice. Not all agree on the same agenda, but this does not detract from the validity of the protest or its authenticity. Silman’s desperate cry turned the protest into a mighty call challenging the warped social order in Israel today.

I met Silman in WAC’s Haifa offices in May this year, during a meeting between social-protest activists and truck drivers. The aim was to win the support of the truckers for the protest movement. Silman told us he was independent, bankrupt, and barely scraping through. He argued heatedly, expressing enormous anger toward the system that had crushed him. Silman took it upon himself to reach other drivers and persuade them to join, and following the meeting we went down to Haifa port to distribute flyers to truckers. “It’s your protest!” he shouted at those who drove past. “Don’t be silent – join the protest!”

How desperate must a person be in order to burn himself to death? His public suicide in the heart of the demonstration marking one year since the start of the social protest is a watershed for the movement. No longer does the protest express the frustrations of the “sushi-eaters,” the comfortable Tel Aviv middle class. Now it expresses the extreme hardships of the masses, trodden underfoot by the state, driven to their last crust. And behind them are hundreds of thousands who stand on the brink, fearing their fate may be like that of Silman.

In his testament, Silman wrote, “The State of Israel robbed me and plundered me, and left me with nothing. I blame the State of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu and [Finance Minister] Steinitz, the crooks, for the humiliation weak citizens undergo every day. I have no money for medicines or rent, I have no way of getting through the month after I pay millions in taxes, and I served in the army and did reserve duty till the age of 46. I refuse to be homeless, therefore I protest against all the wrongs the state has done to me and to those like me.”

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