The son of Holocaust survivors, he never married and had no children, which is why his requests for public housing were denied repeatedly. Having earned a living from odd jobs, he set up a messenger service in 2000, which failed during the unrest of the second intifada.
Two years ago, unable to afford the cost of living in Tel Aviv, he moved to Haifa where he became deeply involved in the social protest movement. Despite receiving state support for disabilities resulting from a stroke, he had become unable to pay his medical bills and rent.
Silman's sister Elul said that her brother was in despair. "He was mired in debt. Until the last moment we helped him but he didn't want it. Since the day he lost everything, the day they took everything – the house, his trucks, the money, my parents' house – he has been going downhill," she said.
In the suicide note he distributed shortly before setting himself alight, Silman blamed Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and the finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, for his actions.
"I refuse to be homeless, this is why I am protesting," he wrote. "Against all the injustices done to me by the state, me and others like me."
Thousands protested last Sunday in solidarity with Silman, angry that he had been driven to such desperation. It remains to be seen whether his death will invigorate the protests that have failed to garner the popular support of last year, when almost half a million Israelis took to the streets to demand social change.
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Correspondent Phoebe Greenwood, reporting from Tel Aviv, Israel, in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/20/israeli-protester-alight-dies