Fate of Israeli Self-immolition Casualty Was Sealed by State's Red Tape

Moshe Silman had no other alternative. In the choice between being a dead man walking or an actual dead man he opted to preserve at least a scrap of his dignity.

Moshe Silman had no other alternative. In the choice between being a dead man walking or an actual dead man he opted to preserve at least a scrap of his dignity.

For too long he had been knocking on every door, along with so many other Moshe Silmans who receive no response or attention. For so many years no one even tried to take him into consideration.

Now there will be no one in the blocked corridors of officialdom who will not know his name. We can blame the method, we can even blame it all on the system, but the bottom line is that everything is personal and every person has a name.

Because all these people slammed the door in his face in the name of the law, and by doing nothing they are responsible for every shred of his incinerated skin, every scratch on his sorrowful soul that led him to the fires of hell.

Here of all places − in a country that from the beginning held high the banner of the welfare of its citizens − every day the small words are eating away at the living flesh. Otherwise it is impossible to explain the two laws to which Silman fell victim and if not for which, he could have lived a life of dignity.

The first is the right to housing. So much has been said about housing for young couples, for the ultra-Orthodox, for career army personnel, that we have neglected the basic principle. Everyone has the right at least to a place to live. “Housing is the main tool to attain the goals of the state,” said Israel’s first prime minister in its earliest years. “That is a basic human need that that the state must provide its citizens.” And so, as early as 1949, Amidar was founded, and charged by Ben-Gurion with the task of housing of a million immigrants, moving them from camps to government housing projects and building and managing subsidized housing for the poor. Later came the other housing agencies. The right to housing is a basic one, enshrined in international conventions. But public housing, that great Zionist project, has been crushed under the bulldozers of the capitalist state.

For the past 14 years, not one public-housing flat has been built, and people in line must wait for a current tenant to die. Lacking public housing, the state gives rental assistance, between NIS 600 to NIS 1,800 a month. The housing minister has recently raised the grant to NIS 3,000 but few are eligible.

Moshe Silman was not eligible, even for one shekel. He is 58 and has had two strokes − a man who worked all his life and paid his national insurance as required by law. But precisely when he needed the social safety net, it was not there for him. Silman was not eligible for assistance because he had once owned an apartment. It did not matter that that apartment is long gone. It did not matter that the bank seized it and left nothing. It did not matter that he worked so hard to buy it and lost it all. Did someone up there really think that the fact that you once owned an apartment makes you a rich person who needs nothing further?

The second law that fettered Silman was the authority to seize a debtor’s driver’s license. Silman worked in transport; he always drove a truck, but the instrument of his livelihood was taken away from him by the Bailiff’s Office because he found himself in an economic abyss. The head of the Collection and Enforcement Authority himself says he regrets these regulations; he says that seizing a driving license is like cutting off the hand of the debtor, his means of making a living, as in Silman’s case. But the law, friends, is the law.

So many times in dealing with people who need help we encounter threats of suicide. In most cases we do not want to believe such people; we quickly persuade ourselves that this is cheap manipulation. But deep in our hearts we know that in too many cases, there is simply no choice.