Israeli dies after self-immolation during protest

Israelis attend a demonstration in Tel Aviv on July 21 in memory of  the first protester who set himself alight on July 14.

Story highlights

  • Akiva Mafa'i was injured during his military service as a young man
  • The 45-year-old set himself alight in protest over his economic situation
  • He is the second man to self-immolate, an unusual protest in Israel, in recent days
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deaths were tragic
A wheelchair-bound Israeli veteran died Wednesday, days after setting himself on fire in a protest over his economic situation, a spokeswoman for Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv said.
Akiva Mafa'i, who was badly injured two decades ago during his service in the Israel Defense Forces, had set himself alight Sunday.
The 45-year-old poured gasoline over his body and ignited it at a bus station in the town of Yehud. Passersby extinguished the flames with bottles of water and a fire extinguisher but he was left with 70% burns.
The veteran had spent four months in a coma at the Beer Sheva Medical Center after he was injured at age 23, according to local media reports. He was to be married a month after he was hurt but the marriage was canceled.
Mafa'i is the second person to die in a self-immolation in Israel in less than a week.
Moshe Silman, a bed-ridden member of a movement to lower the cost of living in Israel, set himself alight during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on July 14. He died two weeks later.
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According to local media reports, he left a note accusing the conservative Netanyahu government of "taking from the poor and giving to the rich." Israeli media have reported other suicide attempts apparently motivated by economic hardship.
The social protest movement has been gaining ground since large demonstrations were held in cities last summer, led by members of Israel's middle class, over soaring costs of living.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the self-immolations as tragic. Such incidents are unusual in Israel.
A self-immolation in Tunisia in December 2010 by Mohamed Bouazizi, a young street vendor, was the spark that ignited the protests and revolutionary fervor of the Arab Spring.
The desperate measure is a more common form of protest in some Asian nations, in particular for Tibetans who want autonomy from China.
Some 44 Tibetans, many of them monks, have self-immolated since 2009, according to the Central Tibetan Administration, which functions as the government of Tibetans outside the Chinese territory.
Chinese official interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries contributed to at least a dozen self-immolations in 2011, according to the U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom report.
In Europe, where self-immolation is also a rare form of protest, a 55-year-old Greek businessman set himself alight last September, overwhelmed by despair and anger over the debt crisis engulfing himself and his country.
Apostolos Polyzonis, who survived after being rescued by police and spending days in intensive care, told CNN in April: "At that moment, I saw my life as worthless. I really didn't care if I was going to live or die."