Moshe Silman. Photograph by Dan Dennison.
Moshe Silman, the Israeli man who set himself on fire at Saturday's J14 social justice protest, has died at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. He spent the past week in critical condition there with second- and third-degree burns covering 94 percent of his body. He was 57 years old.
I was in Tel Aviv covering the protests for a film about Israel's radical left-wing youth when I witnessed Silman start a small fire by the side of the road. He'd doused himself in what I thought was a two-liter bottle of water, and stepped into the flames.
Twenty-four hours later, I was at an impromptu protest in the same city; a hastily organized get-together of hundreds of Israelis wanting to show their solidarity with the man who they looked upon as a fallen comrade. One protester had mummified himself with bandages and carried a sign reading, "the state burned me too,” and the chant, "we are all Moshe Silman" rang through the crowd. They wanted it to be known that Silman’s self-immolation was not a “personal tragedy” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called it, but a tragedy for all of Israel.
We gathered outside the social security building before marching out on a seemingly aimless walk through the city. After an hour or so, a premature rumor that Moshe Silman had died spread through the crowd, and the demonstrators ran out onto the motorway in response, bringing a rush-hour highway to a standstill.
It remains to be seen how Silman's death will affect Israel, but it will undoubtedly bolster the argument for social revolution in a country that, as Silman wrote in his suicide letter, had “stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing."