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14 Jul, 2012 20:02

Heated discontent 2012: Man sets himself on fire as thousands protests in Israel (VIDEO)

Thousands have taken part in rallies across Israel to mark last year’s massive sit-in protests against social injustice. Marches were held in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, where a man set himself alight but was saved and taken to a hospital.

Two separate events were held in Tel Aviv. Thousands of people participated in one of the rallies, organized by social activist Dafni Leef. That rally culminated in a large demonstration outside government offices on Kaplan Street.One of the protesters, a 52-year-old man, poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire. People on the scene were quick enough to extinguish the fire before ambulances arrived and rushed him to Ichilov Hospital. The man was photographed eating a popsicle before he was picked up by paramedics, but medical personnel describe his condition as serious.The man had left a letter at the scene. "The state of Israel stole from me and robbed me. It left me helpless," it says according to the Haaretz newspaper. “Two Housing and Construction Ministry committees rejected me, even though I had a stroke.”He also says that he blames "the state of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, for the humiliation that the weakened citizens go through every day, taking from the poor and giving to the rich."

In Tel Aviv, protesters called for more social justice and better transportation, and held signs in support of the LGBT community and African migrants. "We want a fair society,” Leef was quoted by Haaretz as saying. “Today we are also celebrating. Suddenly, when people take to the streets they understand that they have power and that they are right."Another event, dubbed the 'Million Man March', was also being held in a different part of the city.Some 500 Jews and Arabs took part in another rally in Haifa, calling on the Israeli government to do more for social justice and spend less on the military. Slogans included “Money for the neighborhoods, not for the settlements” and “Money for welfare, not for wars.” Around 200 protesters took part in a similar event in Jerusalem, while some 300 activists rallied in Be’er Sheva.

The protests were being held to commemorate the beginning of last year’s tent city rallies against social injustice. On July 14, 2011, Dafni Leef and nine other activists set up tents on Tel Aviv’s upmarket Rothschild Boulevard. The number of tents quickly mushroomed and soon tens of thousands were flocking to the streets of major Israeli cities protesting against the rising cost of living and calling for the reinstatement of the welfare state.The movement reached a climax in September, when almost half a million people – ten per cent of the country’s population – took to the streets in a single night. The Netanyahu government promised to go along with some of the protesters’ demands, and soon the number of tents and other sit-in demos started waning. In October, the authorities moved in to dismantle the remaining tents in Tel Aviv. However, activists, including Shir Nosatzki, who joined RT live from the heart of the protest, have been saying that the government has largely ignored its promises to address the onerous economic situation many Israelis are in.In June, Leef and some of her supporters tried to re-establish the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard but were prevented from doing so by the police. Authorities then moved in to arrest Leef, and a video showed police grappling with the social activist as she lay on the ground. Thousands of people took to the streets of Tel Aviv the following night, this time protesting both police brutality and social injustice. That rally turned violent, with police attacking protesters, and demonstrators smashing windows and blocking a major highway.  It remains to be seen whether this summer’s social protests gain enough momentum to match the scale of last year’s protest movement, dubbed the “summer of discontent” by much of the media.