Moshe Silman, the Haifa resident who set himself on fire at Saturday night’s
social justice protest, is a proud man who is just not willing to lose his
dignity and become homeless, close relatives and rights activists said of him on
“He had no choices left and was just not ready to live on the
streets,” said Rabbi Idit Lev, manager of the Social Justice Project at Rabbis
for Human Rights, who has been in close contact with Silman for more than a year
in an attempt to help him navigate the difficult bureaucracy and get the state
to help him.
Despite all attempts, however, Lev said that Silman – who
was recently recognized as 100 percent disabled by the National Insurance
Institute (NII) – was receiving only NIS 2,300 in state benefits and was
informed recently that he was not eligible for government housing. He was facing
eviction in less than two weeks from the apartment where he had been living for
free over the past year.
“The irony is that if he had gone to live on the
streets just for two or three weeks, then the state would have helped him but he
was just too proud, he refused to lose that pride,” commented Lev.
that other rights activists who had grown close to Silman – described as in his
late 50s – over the year since last summer’s social justice protests, knew that
if he ended up with nowhere to live, there would be a big problem.
just do not understand how the state could have let this happen to someone,”
added Lev, emphasizing that there are many other people who are in similar dire
“We are also asking ourselves this same question,” said Silman’s
brother- in-law Amram Elul, who was waiting Sunday with other relatives at Sheba
Medical Center in Tel Hashomer to see if he would pull through. A hospital
spokesman said Silman is in critical condition, with burns on 90% of his
“The doctors say he needs a miracle to pull through,” lamented
Elul, who last spoke to Silman just over a week ago and called the NII to see
why his brother-in-law’s disability check had not arrived.
“He told me
that he was not feeling well and because his money had not arrived, he did not
have enough to purchase his medicines,” he said.
According to relatives
and friends, the path that pushed Silman from owning a successful small business
to setting himself alight in protest on Saturday night is another example of how
the social welfare support network in this country fails those most in
“He was born in Israel, he served in the army for seven years and
after that did many years of reserve duty.
He never bothered anyone, yet
the state took everything from him – his business, his home – and in the end, no
one was willing to help him,” said Elul.
He described how a small debt to
the NII, which Silman claimed was an error, just seemed to grow and
When the debt became so large that Silman could not pay it, the
state repossessed one of his delivery trucks and his entire business fell
Elul said that Silman paid a lawyer thousands of shekels in order
to sue the NII for loss of income but was unsuccessful. Finally, the debts grew
so high that Silman turned to his mother for help, who signed off on a loan
using her home. However, a few years later, when Silman’s mother passed away,
the state repossessed his mother’s Bat Yam home as well.
things had an effect on him physically and emotionally,” said Elul, describing
how his brother-inlaw moved to Haifa last May after a friend arranged for him to
live in a free apartment. However, after suffering a series of strokes, he was
unable to earn a living.
“I met Moshe last summer during the social
justice protests,” recalled Yael Levanon, spokeswoman for the social justice
movement in Haifa.
“He used to come to our tent because we had food there
and he was hungry, but unlike other people in need, he used to stay with us
after eating and join in the protests.”
Levanon said that despite Silman
being “bitter about how life had cheated him, he was still proud and refused to
lose his self-respect.”
She blamed the shortcomings of the social welfare
system for not being able to provide a man, someone with serious disabilities
and impossible financial troubles, with the support he needed to live
“The social network was just not there to catch him,” said
Levanon. “What he did [on Saturday] was a rational choice given his
A spokesman for the Haifa Municipality said Sunday that
its social welfare department had been involved in trying to help Silman both
with his rehabilitation back into the workforce and in his fight to gain public
housing and more support from the NII.
However, said the spokesman,
Silman had often turned down the help being offered.