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Moshe Silman's flames should not die with memorial candles

A week after setting himself on fire in front of the government office in Tel Aviv, J14 activist Moshe Sliman died at Tel Ha-Shomer hospital

Flames rising from the site where Moshe Silman set himself aflame. (Photo: Yuval Ben-Ami)

In the midst of a dark day, full of hard news coming from both Syria and Colorado, Moshe Silman passed away. Silman is the Israeli demostrator who set himself on fire at a protest a week ago. A longtime victim of various dysfunctional systems, from National Insurance to Amidar, the state-owned housing company, Silman chose to die in public, adding a flame to the year-old struggle for social justice. He died after six days of hospitalization, with 92 percent of his body covered in burns.

An event in solidarity with Silman, organized for tomorrow night, was quickly altered. The event was planned as a demonstration, to take place in front of Amidar’s offices. As soon as news of Silman’s passing spread, organizers declared that it would be a quiet vigil instead, and asked for participants to bring candles.

No one can blame them for this choice. One of the organizers, activist Liron Achdut, has been in police crosshairs since her arrest at a demonstration four weeks ago. Police blamed Achdut for reacting violently to her arrest, despite images clearly displaying the contrary. There’s evidence that Achdut was being followed after the incident. The police are still dying to prove her to be violent, and so she now must play the mild-mannered adult.

In truth, however, a peaceful march isn’t the most appropriate way to commemorate a man who burned himself in public. Silman’s legacy is the need for for change, and in this country, where the government offers zero attentiveness to the public’s pleas, change can only be achieved through active struggle.

Moshe Sliman in a protest with the Haifa Front of J14 (photo: Haifa Front/החזית החיפאית)

Silman, once a small business owner, was trampled by the establishment due to a $4000 debt, to the point where he was one week away from becoming homeless. He refused to die at home, like hundreds of others who commit suicide annually due to economic hardship. (According to data published by Haaretz: 325 Israelis died under such circumstances in 9007, 404 in 2009.) Instead, he went out and did something grotesque, something horrible, that reminded all of us how intolerable things really are for over a million Israelis who battle with povery.

We are amply used to lighting memorial candles, and this Jewish tradition has long found its way into the Israeli political sphere.  Over fifteen years ago, we lit candles in memory of another man who sought change. Following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli youths blanketed an enormous Tel Avivian square with candles. The “candle children” as they were then known, preserved for a while the memory of a fallen fighter for peace, but thus far have failed to fulfill his vision.

Now another man dies, by fire. Should we take the wild flame that took him and spread it over a thousand harmless candles? It seems wiser to put it into our eyes and return both to the streets and to other settings of social and political activism, determined to achieve change. We must not let our anger melt with the wax. This anger is precious, it is the fuel of change. We are indebted to the late Mr. Silman, and must repay our debt by remembering that his passing was not, as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it “a great personal tragedy,” that it is a national tragedy, and that the Netanyahu’s government is in every way responsible for it. That governement does not deserve candles. It deserves wrath.

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Read Also:
Pro-Netanyahu daily omits criticism from protester’s suicide note

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Philos

      I fully agree with the sentiment of this article. Now is not the time for vigils. Moshe Silman became a symbol because of his act. To mourn him is hollow. It’s time to light a very figurative (ahem, Ronit who likes to invite people in for chats at Dizengoff police station, figurative means not literal) fire under Bibi’s ass.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mitchell Cohen

      Sorry to hear about his passing. My condolences to his family.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      Yuval, this is a stunning piece. I am so angry, too angry. He did it this way because he wanted to be a symbol. Let’s respect that.

      Reply to Comment
    4. ” Yuval, this is a stunning piece. I am so angry, too angry. He did it this way because he wanted to be a symbol. Let’s respect that.

      .
      Like you respect us sh ?
      .
      respect is a two way street , like trust .
      and our trust you fecked up long ago :
      http://www.shalom-salaam.net/
      ” It deserves wrath ”
      you betcha it does sh.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Chepsky

      He wasn’t a Jew. He was a Human Being. He lived and he died.
      And all that BS about jews this and jews that is just politicians selling snake oil. It never occurs to anyone that people suffer in Israel and are distracted by the Palestinian or Iranian threat. Typical deflection tactics. Kill enough Palestinians and they will react then call it Muslim Terrorism. God forbid Israel’s Politicians do right by the Palestinians.

      This is the poison of the Occupation and suppresion of Palestinians. It has over spilled into Israeli society. And who cares if one human being burns himself alive. What does one desperate voice matter??? He wasn’t rich so he’ll be forgotten soon – So his death doesn’t matter, right? And yet he was real: He lived and he died.
      Now Sheldon Adelson, he is Super Rich. A Billionaire flying in from Las Vegas or New York twisting Israel into their own sick fantasies.

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      I don’t know what it takes to set yourself on fire – I hope never to know.
      But a big personal courage – or despair, or both – means nothing about the value of the cause.
      .
      @SH – were you so emotional a few years ago when a protester against the evacuation from Gush Katif set herself on fire, and died?
      .
      @Yuval – Using a person’s tragedy for political means is neither new nor wrong, and yet needs some twisting of the truth, or using ‘active struggle’ to describe violence (not that I disagree with your content!).

      Reply to Comment
    7. Max: “a few years ago when a protester against the evacuation from Gush Katif set herself on fire, and died.”
      .
      I didn’t know this. One of the great things about 972 is other opinions deliver other facts. thanks.
      .
      Yuval: “Should we take the wild flame that took him and spread it over a thousand harmless candles? It seems wiser to put it into our eyes and return both to the streets and to other settings of social and political activism, determined to achieve change. We must not let our anger melt with the wax. This anger is precious, it is the fuel of change. We are indebted to the late Mr. Silman, and must repay our debt”
      .
      Once done, an act is no longer ours, an act of death or other. You call for elements of a social structure to provide meaning to this act, possibly in his own thinking, possibly not. It doesn’t matter either way, so long as there is no overt contradiction in the appropriation. But it IS an appropriation. And you call is a measuring attempt on a social structure. What you are measuring is mobilization on that act now, for the reasons you cry. An act of risk. Real politics is.

      Reply to Comment
    8. sh

      “SH – were you so emotional a few years ago when a protester against the evacuation from Gush Katif set herself on fire, and died?”
      .
      No, Max, I didn’t know about it. Tragically, it turns out there were two. I see both Emily Amrussi and Arutz Sheva have questioned some media’s comparison with Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi rather than with Yelena Businova, a Russian immigrant living in Kedumim (West Bank) who wished to protest the evacuation of Gush Katif but on arrival at the checkpoint, was refused permission to enter the Gaza Strip and Baruch Ben Menahem, an American new immigrant who set himself alight “in memory of Gush Katif” at the entrance of Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem (I assume he was studying there).
      The main difference is that neither of the latter was destitute or without accommodation or prospect thereof. There’s was an ideological suicide.

      Reply to Comment
    9. sh

      Pfft! Theirs I meant.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Zach

      Wow, I think this is the only news-ish website I’ve ever seen where the user comments aren’t awful.

      I agree with the author that the response to this should be anger. The left in general has a big problem with believing that change can come with minimal effort and good feelings, but the upper classes have no problem with using force/violence to protect their interests. Significant positive change has always required a clear threat to the ruling/capital-owning class. Even FDR’s New Deal in the USA was in response to the threat posed by the growing influence of the “far left” at the time. Politicians didn’t create Social Security or a 40 hour work week because they spontaneously decided to help people out of the goodness of their hearts; they did it to appease a populace whose anger posed a threat to their own lifestyle and power.

      What Silman did was very brave.

      Reply to Comment

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