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Issues of the Day Desperation and Defiance: One Man’s Protest

A man put himself on fire at a Tel Aviv social protest rally last Saturday night. He effectively ended any possibility of his having a normal life - if he survives the prolonged hospitalization and rehabilitation his injuries entail.


What possesses a 57 year old man to undertake such an action?

Desperation and despair, and in the case of Moshe Silman,
the determination to make a statement. His friends say he sought to live as dignified a life as his impoverishment, privations and humiliations allowed.


By undertaking this act, which shocked Israel and focused attention anew on the injustices of our society, the activist-victim endeavored to bring home the cruelty of life for the country’s poor and disenfranchised. He had once been a businessman who got caught up in a bureaucracy that doesn’t appreciate nuances and individuals. When that bureaucracy worked, it did so according to formulas, regulations and laws that mercilessly trampled on Moshe.


Moshe Silman was the victim of institutional violence. He was no longer willing to submit quietly to it, even at the cost of death or painful disfigurement. In the note he left behind he indicts the government for callousness and indifference.  The system failed him and continues to fail many others.

By undertaking the act at the social protests in which he had become active since their inception, Moshe was not interested only in himself. By making his statement in the most public of circumstances, he chose a forum he identified with and which protests the erosion of social justice in the society.

While the poor suffer the most, single-parent families, young couples who can’t get affordable housing, owners of small business and many members of the middle class who see their hard-earned income eroded by a cost-of-living that is ridiculously high also find themselves victims of the system.


Moshe Silman’s defiance will haunt the system until it finds a way to practice the social justice the overwhelming majority of Israelis demand.

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved