Debts to the “gray market” and an ongoing dispute with a former landlord drove a middle-aged man to set himself on fire in south Tel Aviv Saturday night, according to acquaintances who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The man, a 55-year-old Russian-speaking Israeli and father of two, worked for the past five years at a scrap metal yard on Yisrael M’salant Street in the Shapira neighborhood, a man at the work site said Sunday.
It was outside his place of work and near his former apartment that the man doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire Saturday night, two employees present said.
Paramedics who arrived at the scene rushed him to Sheba Medical Center in serious condition with third-degree burns across almost his entire body. On Monday, the medical center said he remains in critical condition and hooked up to a respirator.
On the sidewalk on Sunday, a melted plastic bucket was stuck to a pile of cinder, while police tape lay scattered at the scene.
Near the scene, a woman from the Tel Aviv Municipality’s welfare department was speaking to workers to try to gather some information about the man’s identity, saying that the city had no idea who he is or if he has next of kin in Israel.
Yitzhak, a man who worked at a garage next to the metal yard, said that they had coffee every morning for the past few years. He said that the man had begun living at the metal yard a few months earlier, after becoming embroiled in a dispute with his landlord for refusing to pay rent after deciding to break his contract and move out.
Yitzhak said that the man told him that the landlord went to some local criminals who began threatening the man, and that he refused offers to help him out in the dispute, which he said he understood was over a few thousand shekels.
He added that the man was known to like drinking, but that he’d never had a problem with him in the past.
Since July 14, 2012, when Haifa native Moshe Silman set himself on fire at a social justice protest in Tel Aviv, there have been a large number of such incidents across Israel.
Like Silman, who died of his wounds, disabled IDF vet Akiva Mapai also killed himself a month later by self-immolation.
In most of these instances, which took place for the most part in post offices or National Insurance Institute offices, police say the victims had suffered from mental or emotional problems.