In a tragic display of the difficulty many veterans face in Israel, a war veteran named Akiva Mafa’i set himself on fire on Sunday and finally perished on Wednesday. CNN reports that the 45-year-old war veteran, who had been confined to a wheelchair for some time, poured gasoline over his body at a bus station in Yehud, a small town. He then proceeded to light himself on fire, igniting over 70 percent of his body.
Passersby were able to put out the fire with multiple water bottles but the burns were severe and put Mafa’i in the hospital where he remained until his passing on Wednesday. CNN notes that Mafa’i had served in the Israel Defense Forces 20 years ago, placing him in a wheelchair. He also suffered a coma after he sustained injuries at the young age of 23.
This newest self-immolation represents much of the despair that veterans and those lower on the economic scale in Israel have been feeling in recent years.
Another war veteran, Moshe Silman, self-immolated in mid-July. Silman was more up front about why he decided to take his fate into his own hands. He left a note before he set himself alight during a large demonstration in Tel Aviv. The Tehran Times quotes the letter as follows:
I have no money for medicine or rent. I canít make the money after I have paid my millions in taxes. I did the army, and until age 46 I did reserve duty. I refuse to be homeless; this is why I am protesting.
Silman was part of a larger group working towards lowering the cost of living in Israel. Increases in taxes and spending cuts mimic many of the reforms going on in the European Union currently. The Tehran Times notes that 20 percent of Israel’s population lives below the poverty line.
Both Mafa’i and Silman’s tragic ends also represent the struggles many veterans face in Israel. The vast majority of Israeli citizens are required by law to serve in the military starting on their 18th birthday. On August 1, the Tal Law, which had given exemptions for ultra Orthodox Jewish students, was revoked, stirring up tensions between the Orthodox community and the government.
Protests have been rocking the streets of Tel Aviv for many months now as residents from all walks of life demand changes in government economic policies. Both Mafa’i and Silman’s protests have the potential to ignite further fury over the state of the country and the neglect of veterans who have no resources to continue making a living.
Reports have likened these self-immolation protests to the demonstration of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, which sparked a massive uprising during the Arab Spring.
Photo Credit: 'avivi