Self-Immolation: Dying For Justice In Israel
Update | By Muna Hassan
A disabled Israeli veteran set himself on fire Sunday in the Israeli city of Yehud, just two days after Moshe Silman, an Israeli protester who set himself on fire last week, died.
Akiva Mafa’i, a 45-year-old disabled Israel Defense Forces veteran, reportedly sustained burns on 80 percent of his body after he set himself alight at a bus stop in protest of social and economic inequalities.
Witnesses tried to appeal to Mafa’i to no avail.
“I saw a man pouring a bottle on his body, and immediately I understood that it was gasoline and not water,” eyewitness Mahmoud Gdir told Haaretz. “I stopped and ran to him. I saw him holding a lighter, and I pleaded with him not to do it, but he did. I ran to my car to get a small fire extinguisher. It lasted about 2-10 seconds.”
According to a spokesperson from Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical service, upon arrival, rescue workers found the veteran lying next to his wheelchair by the side of the road.
“We found him in very serious condition with burns all over his body. He received initial medical treatment on the scene and was fully conscious. He was connected to a respirator and quickly evacuated to the hospital.”
Rescue workers brought Mafa’i to Tel Hashomer Hospital, where he is currently said to be in serious condition.
(CHICAGO) – Among developed countries, Israel is one of the world’s most socially, politically and economically unjust. It mocks democratic values and social justice.
It’s run of, for and by privileged elites. Ordinary people don’t matter. Extreme wealth disparities, eroding social benefits and security force harshness reveal a declining nation in decay.
Its ideologically hardline neoliberal, repressive and corrupt. It’s no fit place to live in. No wonder so many Jews vote with their feet and leave. Many others prepare by securing foreign passports.
Israelis want longstanding grievances resolved equitably. Issue one is social injustice. Street protests highlight growing anger. Moshe Silman expressed outrage by self-immolation death.
In December 2010, Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze. He protested in front of Sidi Bouzid government offices. At issue was police confiscating his merchandise for operating without a permit. He was a street vendor. He sold vegetables.
His uncle, Mehdi Horchani, said he “gave his life to draw attention to his condition and that of his brothers.” Then and now, Tunisia and most other Arab states have high unemployment, severe poverty, few social benefits, deep-seated corruption and extreme repression enforcing state policy on non-believers.
At his January 4, 2011 funeral, marchers chanted, “Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep.”
He inspired mass activism for change. Islamist Ennahda party officials replaced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and close associates. Everything changed but stayed the same. New leaders are hostile to social justice and democratic values.
Whether Silman’s sacrifice proves more successful remains to be seen. His statement was powerful. His wrath matched Bouazizi’s. His death highlights a corrupt, decaying, socially unjust state.
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.”
Disabled and disheartened, he couldn’t survive on his monthly $582 allowance. “I can’t even live month to month,” he said. “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.”
During a July 14 street protest, he poured gasoline on his body and self-immolated. He suffered severe second and third degree burns over 94 percent of his body. He got emergency care. He was too far gone to save.
On July 20, he died. Activists and close friends were told he couldn’t survive. In respect, they’re sitting Shiva. It’s a traditional seven-day mourning period.
An unidentified friend said he no longer would let Israel “run him over anymore.” Israeli authorities killed him by neglect, oppression, disdain and dismissiveness. They didn’t give a damn. They destroyed his life, welfare and will to live.
Close friends and family members weren’t surprised by what happened. Another friend said he had “protest in his soul. He waited for it to break out and was glad when it did.” He regularly attended public demonstrations and marches.
Two years ago he moved from Bat Yam to Haifa. He suffered business and health reversals. His ability to sustain himself deteriorated.
At the end, he lived in a dilapidated two-room apartment in Haifa’s poor Wadi Salif neighborhood. Like Silman, others there struggle to survive.
His friends were activists. His neighbors didn’t know him. His refrigerator was empty. His savings were depleted. He lost hope that anything would change. He refused to live homeless in the street.
One of his sisters said, “He was in despair. He was mired in debt. Until the last moment we helped him. But he didn’t want it. Since the day he lost everything, the day they took everything, the house, his trucks, the money, my parents’ house, he has been going downhill.”
Last March, he urged friends to organize and protest. Israel betrayed him and most others. Their only recourse is fighting back.
During summer 2011 protests, he participated regularly. Haifa activists got to know him. One friend said, “He was always trying to turn over one stone and then another to see if he could move ahead somehow.”
He spent days looking for work. He fought for his rights and lost. A fellow activist said he self-immolated in protest. “It’s terrible when a person has to” die to explain his plight to others.
On July 15, hundreds of Israelis rallied near Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence on his behalf. Police confronted them violently. Increasingly Jews face treatment Arabs have known for decades.
Haifa and Tel Aviv protests also erupted. They rallied under the slogan, “We’re all Moshe Silman – The Blood is on The Government’s Hands.”
Activists carried signs saying, “The Poor Won’t Have Anything to Eat, and They’ll Eat the Rich.” Another read, “Desperation Burns – Who’s Next?” One more targeted Netanyahu saying, “Bibi, you burned us too.”
One rally organizer said she tried to help Silman. She asked for his forgiveness for not being able to do more. “He deserved more than the country” gave him, she added.
On July 19, Dina Kraft’s Haaretz article headlined, “A man has set himself on fire!” saying, “Israel’s social protest movement has renewed the unity of purpose and collective ethos that has largely disappeared from the country – and Moshe Silman’s tragic act of self-immolation, that I witnessed, may re-charge it even more.”
Whether she’s right remains to be seen. Protest movements lose energy. The fullness of time alone will tell if this one has legs.
Perhaps Silman lit a fuse to set Israel ablaze. It sure as hell needs it. So does America and most European countries.
Much depends on committed leaders able to sustain struggle for change. It seldom happens and never easily or quickly. Either people take it upon themselves to fight for their rights, or they’ll end up with fewer than now en route to losing everything.
Western societies and Israel are corrupt, decaying and concerned only about wealth, power and privilege. Middle income households are disappearing. So are high-paying full-time jobs, social benefits and the ability to survive in dignity.
Government resources go for militarism, imperial wars, banker bailouts, other corporate handouts and tax cuts for super-rich elites.
Unless people fight back they’re lost. Powerful insiders plan transforming Western nations and Israel into a lower level of hell Dante forgot. It’s a corporatist’s dream.
Taking from the poor and most others for the rich and well-connected is policy. So is replacing high-pay/good benefit jobs with sub-minimal neoserfdom subsistence.
Eroding democratic values are on the chopping block for elimination. Privatizing everything is planned. Criminals in high places run everything. Police state justice is policy.
Exploitation is legislated. People are used like production inputs. When no longer needed, they’re discarded like yesterday’s garbage.
At issue is eat or be eaten. Either slay this beast or be consumed by it. There’s no in-between.
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