‘Moshe Silman was too proud to live on the streets' By RUTH EGLASH07/15/2012 20:33Family of man who lit himself on fire says he had "no choice left"; Silman remains in critical condition. Photo: Asaf Kliger
Moshe Silman, the Haifa resident who set himself on fire at Saturday night’s social justice protest, is a proud man who is just not willing to lose his dignity and become homeless, close relatives and rights activists said of him on Sunday.
“He had no choices left and was just not ready to live on the streets,” said Rabbi Idit Lev, manager of the Social Justice Project at Rabbis for Human Rights, who has been in close contact with Silman for more than a year in an attempt to help him navigate the difficult bureaucracy and get the state to help him.
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Despite all attempts, however, Lev said that Silman – who was recently recognized as 100 percent disabled by the National Insurance Institute (NII) – was receiving only NIS 2,300 in state benefits and was informed recently that he was not eligible for government housing. He was facing eviction in less than two weeks from the apartment where he had been living for free over the past year.
“The irony is that if he had gone to live on the streets just for two or three weeks, then the state would have helped him but he was just too proud, he refused to lose that pride,” commented Lev.
She said that other rights activists who had grown close to Silman – described as in his late 50s – over the year since last summer’s social justice protests, knew that if he ended up with nowhere to live, there would be a big problem.
“I just do not understand how the state could have let this happen to someone,” added Lev, emphasizing that there are many other people who are in similar dire straits.
“We are also asking ourselves this same question,” said Silman’s brother- in-law Amram Elul, who was waiting Sunday with other relatives at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer to see if he would pull through. A hospital spokesman said Silman is in critical condition, with burns on 90% of his body.
“The doctors say he needs a miracle to pull through,” lamented Elul, who last spoke to Silman just over a week ago and called the NII to see why his brother-in-law’s disability check had not arrived.
“He told me that he was not feeling well and because his money had not arrived, he did not have enough to purchase his medicines,” he said.
According to relatives and friends, the path that pushed Silman from owning a successful small business to setting himself alight in protest on Saturday night is another example of how the social welfare support network in this country fails those most in need.
“He was born in Israel, he served in the army for seven years and after that did many years of reserve duty.
He never bothered anyone, yet the state took everything from him – his business, his home – and in the end, no one was willing to help him,” said Elul.
He described how a small debt to the NII, which Silman claimed was an error, just seemed to grow and grow.
When the debt became so large that Silman could not pay it, the state repossessed one of his delivery trucks and his entire business fell apart.
Elul said that Silman paid a lawyer thousands of shekels in order to sue the NII for loss of income but was unsuccessful. Finally, the debts grew so high that Silman turned to his mother for help, who signed off on a loan using her home. However, a few years later, when Silman’s mother passed away, the state repossessed his mother’s Bat Yam home as well.
“All those things had an effect on him physically and emotionally,” said Elul, describing how his brother-inlaw moved to Haifa last May after a friend arranged for him to live in a free apartment. However, after suffering a series of strokes, he was unable to earn a living.
“I met Moshe last summer during the social justice protests,” recalled Yael Levanon, spokeswoman for the social justice movement in Haifa.
“He used to come to our tent because we had food there and he was hungry, but unlike other people in need, he used to stay with us after eating and join in the protests.”
Levanon said that despite Silman being “bitter about how life had cheated him, he was still proud and refused to lose his self-respect.”
She blamed the shortcomings of the social welfare system for not being able to provide a man, someone with serious disabilities and impossible financial troubles, with the support he needed to live decently.
“The social network was just not there to catch him,” said Levanon. “What he did [on Saturday] was a rational choice given his circumstances.”
A spokesman for the Haifa Municipality said Sunday that its social welfare department had been involved in trying to help Silman both with his rehabilitation back into the workforce and in his fight to gain public housing and more support from the NII.
However, said the spokesman, Silman had often turned down the help being offered.