Protesting Social Injustice by Self-Immolation
by Stephen Lendman
Social justice in Israel is just a figure of speech. It's entirely lacking. Neoliberal harshness is policy.
Israel replicates the worst Western society policies. Little about it gets reported.
Last summer, unaffordable housing prices and other social injustice issues sparked weeks of nationwide protests. Long-denied Israelis reacted. They're back. Promises made were broken.
Israelis want longstanding grievances resolved. Netanyahu turns a blind eye. July 14 marked the anniversary of summer 2011 rallies, demonstrations, and marches.
Thousands rallied in Tel Aviv. No one imagined what Moshe Silman planned. He self-immolated in protest.
"As thousands marched down" Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, "Silman poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire." He was rushed to a hospital for treatment. He left a letter saying:
"The state of Israel stole from me and robbed me. It left me helpless."
"Two Housing and Construction Ministry committees rejected me, even though I had a stroke."
His monthly 2,300 NIS (New Israeli Shekel) allowance left him no money for rent or medications. It's $582.
"I can't even live month to month. I won't be homeless, and so I am protesting."
He blamed "the state of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, for the humiliation that the weakened citizens go through every day, taking from the poor and giving to the rich."
His comments can easily be verified, he added.
They're true. Israel enriches privileged elites at the expense of most others. Unemployment, poverty, hunger, and homelessness are major problems like in America and other Western societies.
Yonatan Sahar was beside him when he set himself ablaze. "I saw him holding something burning," he said. Suddenly he poured gasoline on himself and created a human torch. "I didn't know what to do," he added.
Silman was first taken to Ichilov Hospital. He's currently in Sheba Medical Center's intensive care unit. Officials say he's in serious condition. He has grade two and three burns over 94% of his body. He's expected to be hospitalized for months. If he survives, recovery will be long and painful.
The Mayo Clinic calls first degree burns least serious. They only affect the skin's outer layer.
Second degree ones occur when first layers burn through. Blisters develop. Skin gets intensively red and splotchy. Severe pain and swelling result.
Third degree burns are most serious. They involve "all layers of the skin and cause permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle and even bone may be affected." Skin grafting or synthetic skin may be required. Recovery is painful and protracted.
Despair causes desperate reactions. Silman's not unique. Most Israelis experience injustice. Perhaps his action will inspire greater efforts from others. It's high time for greater public rage and not just in Israel.
Government officials there and in virtually all Western societies don't give a damn. Serving the rich and corporate interests alone matter. Social injustice is a small price to pay, they believe.
Austerity is policy. So what if millions go hungry, can't pay rent, afford medical care, or cover the cost of higher education.
Agendas this harsh produce crises. They head societies for dead ends. They enrage people justifiably. Silman elevated his wrath to a higher level.
In a recent talk, economist Michael Hudson called neoliberism the "weaponization of economic theory. (It) kidnap(s) the original liberal ethic....(It) sought to defend against special privilege and unearned income."
It "misrepresents and even inverts the classical liberal idea of free markets." How can they be free when powerful interests have total control solely for their own self-enrichment?
Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are two sides of the same coin. They represent "power and autocracy combined with deregulation and dismantling of democratic law."
Their goal is oppressing people with "oligarchic power." It's also about denying them basic rights. Their ideal societies aren't fit to live in.
Like America and across Europe, Israel is a classic example. It wages financial war against labor, social justice, and democratic values.
Silman's self-immolation reflects its harshness. Haaretz said Israelis "must demand change." Sustaining protests, rallies, and other tactics is essential for any hope for change.
Challenging government disdain for basic rights can't stop until social injustice ends. Haaretz believes public anger "is here to stay."
Netanyahu heads Israel's worst ever government. He exceeds Ariel Sharon's extremism and previous hardline leaders. He's an embarrassment to democratic governance and social justice.
He spurns individual rights. He endorses neoliberal rapaciousness. He doesn't give a damn about ordinary Israelis. He never did and doesn't now.
His agenda reflects power politics, repression, belligerence, and serving corporate and rich elite interests.
Disingenuously he called Silman's self-immolation "a great and personal tragedy." Good governance would have prevented it.
On October 8, 2002, Silman's trouble began. National Insurance Institute (NIS) bailiffs seized one of his company's four trucks (Mika Transports).
He owed 15,000 NIS. He paid a third of his debt. Towing charges of 1,200 NIS were added. A NIS strike prevented him for reclaiming his truck. In 2005, it led to his business collapsing, he said.
Six years later he sued for eight million NIS in damages. His case was never heard in court. He felt betrayed and denied.
He's an Israeli native. His father survived the holocaust. After his business collapsed, he couldn't afford his apartment rent. He began working as a taxi driver. He couldn't make ends meet.
His financial situation deteriorated. His bank account was seized. His savings and insurance benefits were either seized or exhausted. Except for an old Volkswagen, he lost everything.
His mother served as guarantor for his debts. She exhausted her savings. To save her apartment, she transferred it to her daughters.
Court authorities rejected his plea to be exempt from a toll on his damage claims suit. In March, he urged friends to organize NIS protests. He called it the "Anti-Social National Insurance Institute."
Two years ago, his mother died. Her apartment was seized. Her daughters petitioned in court to reclaim it. After Silman's appeal was rejected and his mother's death, his health declined. He suffered a stroke.
He moved to Haifa. He lived on a monthly 2,300 NIS ($585) disability pension. NIS categorized him 50% disabled. His sisters had to help. His appeals for public housing were repeatedly rejected.
Last December, his pension period ended. After months of struggle, he regained it in May. Poor health led to his driving permit revocation.
When social protests began last summer, he participated actively in Tel Aviv. Though living in Haifa, he did again on Saturday. With not enough income for rent, he feared homelessness.
In April, he posted a Facebook comment, saying in part:
After being admitted to Rambam Medical Center, he "was afraid to go home. I live alone....They insist on releasing me....without medical treatment. They also threaten to call the police, and instead of receiving medical treatment I could end up in jail. So long."
He was desperate. Weeks later he self-immolated. He and others like him symbolize Israeli injustice. It reflects growing harshness throughout Western societies.
When government officials spurn basic rights, people react. Self-immolation is extreme. It signifies what's too hard to bear.
Perhaps it'll inspire others to rally against what they'll no longer tolerate. It's their only chance for justice. There's no other way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War"
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.