As Details of Bureaucratic Nightmare Emerge, Netanyahu Laments 'Personal Tragedy' of Man Who Set Himself on Fire

Moshe Silman is in serious condition after he poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire during a social protest on Saturday; in letter he left behind, he says, 'the state of Israel robbed me.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded on Sunday to the self-immolation of Israeli social justice protester Moshe Silman on Saturday, saying that it was "a great and personal tragedy."

Silman, a 57-year-old Haifa resident, set himself on fire on Saturday during a Tel Aviv demonstration marking the anniversary of last summer's social protests. He is currently in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, where he was transferred after midnight on Saturday, after first being taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. Silman, who has grade two and three burns on 94 percent of his body, will only be transferred to the hospital burns unit later on Sunday, as there were no beds available there when he first arrived at Sheba Medical Center. He is expected to remain in hospital for a long period of time.

During a meeting of Likud ministers, Netanyahu said, "I wish Moshe a complete recovery. I asked the Welfare and Social Services Minister and the Housing Minister to look into the issue."

Silman considers October 8, 2002, as the day that his downfall began. On that day, National Insurance Institute bailiffs seized one of the four trucks that were used for his company, Mika Transports. The reason: a debt of NIS 15,000. Silman paid a third of the debt in order to reclaim his truck, but then he was asked to pay a further NIS 1,200 to cover towing expenses.

Silman could not reclaim the truck due to a strike at the National Insurance Institute, and says that it led to the collapse of his business.

Six years later, he decided to sue the institute, and submitted a claim for damages amounting to NIS 8 million to the Tel Aviv District court, citing the seizure of the truck. Due to his financial situation he requested an exemption from the toll, but his request was rejected, and the case was never heard in court.

Silman, 57, was born in Israel. His father was a holocaust survivor. Silman was drafted to the IDF, released from service, but then requested to be re-drafted, completed his compulsory service and continued to do reserve duty as well.

Throughout the years he drifted between jobs, and after several years in the U.S., he founded a messenger service and finally enjoyed stability and a steady income. Towards the end of 2000, his business was damaged by the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Silman moved his business to a smaller warehouse and his office to his home in Jaffa. It later turned out that the National Insurance Institute's debt notices never reached him, because they were sent to his former address. In 2005, after his business collapsed, he was forced to evacuate his apartment.

Silman began working as a taxi driver, but could not make ends meet. In an affidavit supported by documents, submitted with his damages claim against the institute, Silman wrote that during 2007 he earned a monthly wage of NIS 4,150, and in the first third of 2008 – a monthly wage of NIS 5,525.

As his financial situation deteriorated, his bank account was seized, and all his savings and insurance benefits were either seized or used to pay his debts, estimated at hundreds of thousands of shekels. He was left only with his old Volkswagen Polo that he used as a taxi driver. Silman's mother, a guarantor to his debts, was also left without savings. In order to save her apartment, she legally transferred it to her daughters, free of charge. The court registrar who rejected Silman's plea to be exempt from the toll on his damage claims suit wrote: "Whoever uses this route of property smuggling cannot be heard afterwards saying that he has no financial possibility of paying the toll."

In a Facebook post last March, Silman urged his friends to organize protests against the National Insurance Institute: "I think that considering the upcoming appointment of a new general director of the NII, which is actually the Anti-Social National Insurance Institute, which has throughout the years caused the most cases of injustice by any governmental service to the weakest segments of society – and continues to do so daily – we should organize protests in front of NII offices, [exposing it] as an anti-social organization, leading the wrongdoers, conducting itself as one of the worst private insurance businesses, and not as a national social insurance [service]."

Silman's un-accepted lawsuit was accompanied by recommendations written by his clients, which served companies such as Office Depot, Kur Industries, Atid Network and others. Guy Hirsch, director of the orders' center in CMS, wrote of Silman: "Throughout the years we have never encountered any problems with the transporter, on the contrary, the services he provided were always impeccable as far as credibility, punctuality, high standards and representing our company in a respectable way vis-à-vis our clients." Another letter, written by Shimon Hayoun, director of Hayoun Computers, testified that "his transport company's services were exceptional and to our full satisfaction. The attitude, the standard of the service, the availability and the prices, all place his company on par with the best known transporting companies, and often outshine them. Most highly recommended."

Two years ago Salman's mother passed away. Her apartment was seized, prompting her daughters to go to court, claiming that they deserved to receive her inheritance. Following the rejection of Silman's appeal, and after his mother's death, his health faltered, and he suffered a stroke. Silman moved to Haifa, living on a NIS 2,300 monthly disability pension. Still, the National Insurance Institute decided to categorize him as losing only 50 percent of his working ability. His sisters helped and fed him. His appeals to be entitled to public housing were rejected again and again. When he was hospitalized, he told Rabbi Idit Lev, who helped him in Haifa, that his condition was "excellent because he was hospitalized and received three meals a day." Last December his pension period ended, and he began to receive it again only in May, after a long struggle. His friends say he tried to find a job, but his driving permit was revoked by a court due to his health.

When the social protests began, a year ago, Silman participated in all the demonstrations, and was active in Tel Aviv. Last night, after his action, his friends realized that he had gone to the Tel Aviv demonstration, and not to the Haifa demo, as expected. A friend had allowed him recently to live in a one-room apartment free of charge, but Silman was due to evacuate it next week. He told his Haifa friends often that he has no intention of living on the streets.

Last April he published another Facebook post: "I want to tell you what I'm going through now. This morning I lost my balance, but fortunately fell on the bed and wasn't hurt. At Rambam Medical Center, I underwent two CT scans, which negated the possibility of a stroke. Dr. Wasserman says that it was possibly my ear and wanted to send me home. She said they don't want to treat me and I should be treated at the clinic. But I'm afraid to go home, I live alone, and I'm afraid to go home. They insist on releasing me from the hospital without medical treatment, they also threaten to call the police, and instead of receiving medical treatment I could end up in jail. So long."

Hagai Fried