Another man burns: Israeli self-immolations signal the fire alarm
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In recent weeks the streets of Tel Aviv have witnessed desperate people setting themselves on fire in protest at the growing income inequality and inflation in Israel. Almost one year after some 400,000 Israelis filled Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to protest against the increasing economic difficulties, a wave of civil unrest is again gripping Israel.
The [latest] victim of the protests was 57-year-old Moshe Silman, a disabled war veteran who sustained severe injuries after setting himself ablaze at a bus stop near Tel Aviv on July 14. The death of Silman ignited widespread anger among Israelis who now are calling on the government to meet their demands. Many observers have compared Silman to the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, and died on January 4, 2011. His death precipitated what would become the Tunisian Revolution, which in turn spread across the Arab world.
However, self-immolations in the past weeks in Israel are not exceptional. Although few may remember the tragic event, back in July 2004, an Israeli citizen named Mordehai Cohen set himself on fire in protest over his rejection for a work license. Moshe Silman was formerly a businessman, working in a messenger service. However his business reportedly fell on hard times following the Second Intifada. He eventually lost his home. Irritated and hopeless, he killed himself by setting himself alight. Silman had written a letter, part of which reads, "I have no money for medicine or rent. I can’t make the money after I have paid my millions in taxes. I can’t make the money after I have paid my millions in taxes I did the army, and until age 46 I did reserve duty. I refuse to be homeless; this is why I am protesting."
40-year-old Israel Defense Force (IDF) veteran Akiva Mafa'I also self-immolated. The Defense Ministry denied that his self-immolation had any connection with his status as a military veteran, but his brother thinks differently. He says that IDF treats war veterans apathetically, paying no attention to the fact that they have sacrificed themselves for their country.
Israel's reliance on the United States and EU's ailing economy has dragged it into its current crisis. The EU is Israel's biggest trading partner: in 2011 bilateral trade between the two sides amounted to approximately €29.4 billion. But the economic indicators don't carry promising news for Israel. As of December 31, 2010, Israel's external debt was around $89 billion, 43 per cent of Israel's GDP. According to the New Israel Fund, 20 percent of the Israeli citizens, and one in three of its children, live below the poverty line.
On July 24, the Israeli media published a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had demanded an increase in taxes and considerable spending cuts. Israel is sinking into poverty and debt while its hawkish leaders spend lavishly on military equipment. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel ranks 18th in the world for total military expenditure, largely predicated on the $3.1 billion it receives from the U.S. in military aid. Recently it was reported that Obama had signed into law to allow the government to give Israel another $70 million in military assistance.
Israel's economy is in disarray. Mass protests in Tel Aviv and other cities betray Israel's failed economy. Perhaps it might be better for the Israeli leaders to focus more on their domestic woes than their policies of oppression in the Palestinian territories and their designs on Syria and Iran.