In an act reminiscent of the event that launched the so-called Arab Spring demonstrations in Tunisia, an Israeli protester set himself on fire Saturday night during a Tel Aviv rally marking the one-year anniversary of last year’s widely-attended social justice protests.
Israeli media are reporting that Moshe Silman, an unemployed man, handed out and then read a letter aloud to fellow protesters detailing a list of grievances against the government before setting himself ablaze. Eyewitnesses say he poured gasoline over himself, then ignited.
The Associated Press captured a graphic photo of the incident in which Silman is clearly seen engulfed in flames:
In this video taken by a bystander, a speaker complains about public transportation and then suddenly Silman is on fire, with fellow protesters scrambling to try to put it out:
According to Ynet, Silman’s note contained a list of complaints against the government:
"The State of Israel robbed me and left me with nothing," he wrote.
Silman complained about legal proceedings he was forced to undergo. "You can't even get rent support, two Housing Ministry committees rejected me despite the fact I had a stroke and lost ability to work. I blame Israel's public servants: The National Insurance Institute.
"I blame the State of Israel, [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and [Finance Minister] Yuval Steinitz for the constant humiliation the citizens of Israel have to endure on a day-to-day basis. They take from the poor and give to the rich. "
He added, "I can't afford medication or rent. I paid millions in tax, I served in the army and in the reserves until I was 46. I won't be homeless and that is why I am protesting against all the wrongs the state imposes on people like me."
Eyewitness Yonatan Sahar told a Haaretz reporter that he was standing next to Silman when suddenly he saw the flames:
"I saw him holding something burning," he said. When suddenly he poured gasoline on himself and immediately caught fire. "I didn't know what to do," he added.
Once he lit himself on fire, the surrounding protesters threw water on him. Israeli media report he is now in the hospital with burns on between 80 and 90 percent of his body.
Here is video from the Israel Police:
Those who know Silman say they were not surprised by his action, as he’d been threatening to do something drastic after the stroke had left him unable to work and his application for public housing was rejected.
Ynet quotes one friend saying, “The state pissed on him and was completely unwilling to help.”
Fellow social activist Ofer Barkan told Ynet, "He told us he won't go back to being homeless and threatened to do something extreme."
Another woman whom the paper quoted only as Yael said a group of friends had even planned to watch over him at a demonstration in the northern city of Haifa where they had expected him to appear, since that’s where he lives. But he ended up traveling to the larger Tel Aviv rally.
As The Blaze reported last month, activists trying to rekindle last summer’s cost-of-living protests clashed with Israel Police in scenes reminiscent of the more anarchical elements of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Eighty-five were arrested in June after bank windows were broken, eggs were thrown and a major highway was blocked by social protesters.
That violent outburst and now this self-immolation stand in stark contrast to last year’s largely peaceful demonstrations protesting the high cost of living in Israel. The 2012 protests appear to have adopted a more anarchist tone and will thus be unlikely to recruit the hundreds of thousands that came out for last summer’s demonstrations. Then, they enjoyed a small measure of success including the Netanyahu government’s decision to provide public education from age three on the taxpayer’s dime (or Shekel in this case).
This summer’s efforts also appear to be in disarray. Various factions were so split on where to hold their anniversary rally, they ended up holding two separate events in different locations, both on Saturday.