Monday, July 16, 2012

The story of Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire on Saturday night in Tel Aviv

Source: Rabbis for Human Rights
By: Ori Ben Dov – On Shabat evening, 14.7 during a demonstration on Kaplan St. where Moshe Silman set fire to himself, in protest at the terrible economic situation he was in and at his mistreatment by state and government institutions. The following will try to clarify how Moshe got to this stage. It is recounted by Rabbi Idit Lev, Director of Social Justice at Rabbis for Human Rights, who accompanied Moshe during the last year in his desperate attempts to get what he was due and to prevent him from becoming homeless.

A personal note: Idit is my sister. For many years I have heard from her hardship stories where she has tried to help make state institutions attend to those citizens who are weak and lack basic rights. This evening I was standing very close to Moshe when he set himself alight. The following will try to be as accurate as possible, but it is written in deep shock.

A country which destroys its citizens | Ori Ben Dov

Since he went bankrupt ten years’ ago, Silman has lived in poverty, given up on medicine and food, and battled the establishment to get rental assistance and disability benefits.

Moshe Silman was a proud man, had his own business, owned three lorries. Ten years’ ago, Bituach Leumi (the National Insurance Institute) claimed that Moshe owed them a large sum of money and they

expropriated one of his lorries. As a result of this, his business collapsed and he went bankrupt.

The bank foreclosed on his private apartment in Yafo and he moved in to live with his mother. He worked at different jobs, he was a taxi driver, and his debts mounted. He tried to sue Bituach Leumi for the damage caused to him but the fee that the law demands in a suit against the state was too high for him. The court registrar, who has the authority to reduce the fee, refused his request, and so Moshe lost his right to sue the state and to examine the extent of damage he suffered. It is to this court registrar he refers in the letter he wrote before the event.

At a certain stage, Moshe moved to Haifa, to reduce his living expenses. He worked as a taxi driver. About a year and a half ago, he suffered a series of strokes. He suffered from continuous dizziness and could not drive, and stopped working. He received disability benefits from Bituach Leumi, which were so low that he needed to receive an additional income supplement benefit. He became a sick man who could not support himself.

In May, following a new request to Bituach Leumi, he received 100 percent disability, but only 5 percent loss of ability to work, even though he had stopped working. Bituach Leumi allocated him 2300 NIS and this was in fact the whole sum he had to live on. His two sisters helped him with food. He gave up some of his medication as well as medical checkups, in order to try and survive.

In this situation, Moshe came to the Haifa encampment when it was set up last July. Here he found a supportive home and community. During the period of the encampment, one of the activists put him in touch with a man who gave him an apartment for a year. In August 2011, he went to live there.

During all this time, Moshe requested assistance with rent from the Ministry of Housing, but was refused. According to the criteria of the Ministry of Housing, a person who has owned an apartment during the previous five years cannot request this kind of assistance. In spite of the fact that ten years had passed since he owned an apartment – this was one of the reasons for his request being rejected.

Some years ago, Moshe’s mother died. Owing to the fact that she had been a guarantor for some of his debts, her apartment was foreclosed on. Moshe’s sisters appealed to the courts for their share of the apartment and the matter is being looked into but, even though all the money that Moshe would receive from selling the apartment would immediately be confiscated, the Ministry of Housing claims that, as long as there is chance that Moshe might receive some money in the future, he is not entitled to receive any assistance. Moshe issued one appeal on his own and another with the help of “Rabbis for Human Rights.” The appeals were rejected. Getting 100 percent disability should have helped him in his appeal, but every attempt by Moshe and by those who assisted him in this process, to persuade the appeals board to update Moshe’s disability, failed. All the efforts expended on this by many different people, including Member of Knesset Orly Levy Abecassis, just to make the board understand and accept Moshe’s disability – as of today there has been no response.

Last June, Moshe received an answer that his appeal had been rejected. The legal assistance department of the Ministry of Housing (the body which is supposed to help people who lack means to get legal help) refused to help him in his attempt to sue Bituach Leumi.

There is no place for an exception to the rule: From the letter rejecting Moshe Silman’s request for assistance.

A further appeal that was lodged is due to be heard in September. For Moshe that was too late. The owner of the apartment where he was living asked him to start paying rent and, for Moshe, a man of honour, it was clear that he could not stay there. We must remember that we are talking about a sick man, who could not work, who received2300 a month on which to live. There was only one meaning – to go and live on the street.

The social worker dealing with him did not answer his request to receive rent assistance for two months, until the appeal. Simply did not reply. The staff of the department of the homeless in the Haifa municipality told him to turn to them when he was on the street – but Moshe was not ready to become homeless.

On Saturday evening, at the junction of Kaplan st. and Duvnov st. in Tel-Aviv, he set fire to himself.

Yossi Baruch, one of the people from Haifa who knows Moshe personally, emphasizes that the man is sane and that he did what he did out of desperation and as a protest at the complete deafness of every government body that he turned to for help. Moshe said repeatedly that he was not willing to be trampled on. He described the humiliation that someone asking for assistance from the state of Israel has to undergo, and said that even a poor man needs to be treated with respect. Perhaps that is why he set himself alight – to stop being walked over, that he and his needs should be addressed. Every institution that he approached – turned their back on him. Welfare, Housing, Bituach Leumi, the courts – they all showed him the way to the street.

It is important to remember: Moshe is not alone. Tens of thousands are in his situation, deteriorating more and more, fighting bureaucracy and the impermeability of a state which destroys them. Because this is not a mistake – it is policy, and it comes from the top, from the government.

A state where the welfare authorities are collapsing, public housing has dried up, the Housing Ministry does not assist those who need help and the legal system refuses to help those who have no money – this is a state that destroys its citizens.
This post was first published on J14 movement main site (in Hebrew - this is the English translation of Rabbis for Human Rights).

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