Before the day’s events unfolded, the first anniversary of Israel’s popular protests of 2011 had been feared by many activists of becoming yet another botched attempt to revitalise their social movement.
Instead of proving the concerns correct, the July 14 event has provided the movement its most powerful and shocking symbol – the image of a down-on-his-luck son of a Holocaust survivor setting himself on fire to protest a long battle with the government to receive social services.
In doing so, 57-year-old Moshe Silman may have rallied an angrier set of demonstrators behind the cause and given new life to Israel’s social protest movement.
The Haifa native used the opportunity to highlight his frustration with an increasingly desperate economic and health situation, and now his life hangs in the balance. It was the first self-immolation in Israel since an opponent of the Gaza disengagement let herself alight in 2005.
“What Moshe did represents the whole range of problems of our society when a person loses everything and comes to authorities to get help and they deny him,” Alon Lee-Green, an activist with the social movement in Tel Aviv, told Al Jazeera.
“And then he cried out for help. They told him, we can’t help you. But this was not a personal problem but a national problem,” he said.
“Our movement stands with every man and woman who suffers from these problems. It is not only their problem. It is our problem. We are all July 14. And if he dies, it will be bring [everyone] into the streets.”
Crowds swarmed around Silman on Saturday evening, trying to douse the flames with shirts and water. But the fire engulfed his body, and his suicide note was left to indict the system for what it had done to his life.
“I accuse the state of Israel, Netanyahu and [Finance Minister] Yuval Steinitz, the bastards, for the humiliation that the weakened citizens of Israel endure on a daily basis,” the letter said.