Wheelchair-bound IDF vet latest Israeli to set himself ablaze

Israelis, holding torches, attend a demonstration in Tel Aviv on July 21, 2012, in memory of Moshe Silman (AFP Photo / David Buimovitch)
A disabled Israeli Defense Forces veteran has self-immolated, sustaining burns to 80 per cent of his body. The incident follows the death of IDF veteran Moshe Silman, who sparked a series of similar protests by setting himself ablaze last week.

­Around noon, people at a bus stop near the central city of Yehud saw a man in a wheel-chair take out a bottle and start soaking himself with its contents.

"I immediately understood that it was gasoline and not water," Mahmoud Gdir, an eyewitness, told Agence France Presse. "I saw him holding a lighter and pleaded with him not to do it, but he did. I ran to my car to get a small fire extinguisher. It lasted about 2-10 seconds."

The disabled man, aged 45, was later recognized as an IDF veteran. Sustaining massive burns, he was rushed to a hospital where he was induced into a coma and put on life support.

The Disabled IDF Veterans' Association says financial woes compelled the veteran to take the desperate measure.

"The bodies that are supposed to support him, i.e. the Defense Ministry and National Insurance Institute have failed him,” the organization’s spokesman told Ynet News. “I'm afraid over 50,000 IDF veterans share his frustration."

The self-immolation took place hours before the funeral of Moshe Silman, an IDF veteran who died on Friday of burns he sustained during a massive demonstration the previous week. Silman had also set himself ablaze, suffering third-degree burns to over 95 per cent of his body.

In a letter which Silman read out before setting himself alight, he accused the Israeli establishment of "taking from the poor and giving to the rich." He also said that despite being incapable of working due to a stroke, a housing ministry committee did not find him eligible for public housing benefits.

Since then, at least five more self-immolation cases have been reported in Israel, with Sunday’s incident being the most serious since Silman.

Before the funeral, Silman’s family called on others not to mimic his desperate act.

"What he did was grim and the family does not condone it – he was expressing his own unmet pain,” the Silmans said in a letter. “We urge the government to consider this horrifying case and do everything within its power to help Israelis who are in need of (financial) assistance."

Israeli social services are collapsing, says Yael Havasi, a public housing activist and protester. As the health system becomes increasingly privatized, fewer people have access to medication, while the criteria for public housing are unrealistic.

If you do not have three children you will not get public housing,” Havasi told RT. “People are not dying of hunger, they are dying of despair. This is what the government has to listen to.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to propose a solution.

Throughout his political career, Benjamin Netanyahu has always had a neoliberal economic view, which is pro-privatization. The whole idea is that poor people have to handle themselves. So I am not surprised Netanyahu is not answering us quickly,” continued Havasi. “But I am surprised our Minister of Housing [Ariel Atias] does not understand that either he gives real solutions to people or he should resign from the government, from the point of view of what his [Shas] party is promoting.”