Poverty…Israel’s Internal Enemy

Poverty is the worst form of violence. – Mahatma Gandhi

Almost two weeks ago 57-year old Moshe Silman, a social protester from the northern city of Haifa, set himself on fire at a demonstration for social justice in Tel Aviv. Standing before a crowd of people, Silman read a letter explaining how the State of Israel had “robbed” him, poured flammable liquid over his body then set himself alight. One week later after suffering from second and third degree burns on 94 percent of his body Silman passed away.

Silman’s plight, a tragic story riddled with insurmountable debt and financial hardship, unfortunately is not unique in Israel.  According to the 2010 National Insurance Institue report on poverty, close to one-quarter of Israelis are living in poverty. Of those, 837,000 are children. In 2010, on average poor families became increasingly impoverished despite substantial economic growth. One of the primary contributing factors has been tax policies as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyu’s economic policies which have widened the gap between the haves and the have nots, thereby contributing to the increasing costs of living.  These factors are what sparked last year’s social protests.

People throughout the country, young and old, crying out for justice and equality. Crying out for their fair share of the pie — not a government handout or charity as some claimed, but to get back from the system as much as they put in. The ability to buy a home or get a formal education. And the ability to have a family and provide for them the basic necessities of life. Is that asking too much of the country to which 2-3 years of one’s life has been given in service to the military?

All investors expect a return on their investment; to classify the Moshe Silmans and all of those standing in the streets demanding their country provide a system that is just, humane and equal as lazy, shiftless and freeloaders is dismissive. Nobody willfully chooses poverty.  We all, from the greatest to the least, desire to live in dignity — to eat and live by the sweat of one’s own brow. It is part of what makes us human. And to deny this strips us of our humanity which is why poverty IS this worst form of violence. It reduces us to nothingness. It robs us of hope and decency and leaves us with despair.

Only the most desperate individual drenches himself in flammable liquid then sets himself on fire. When Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich states, “Silman’s suicide cannot be allowed to become a legitimate act of protest. Taking one’s own life is an extreme and awful act and it cannot be idealized,” she clearly indicates her complete disconnect and profound lack of understanding of the source of the problem. A problem which has only reached the tip of the iceberg as witnessed by the subsequent acts of self-immolation.

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Image source: The Jerusalem Connection