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US Airman Self-Immolates in Front of Israeli Embassy, Yelling “Free Palestine”

“This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal,” said Aaron Bushnell, who was 25.

An active duty member of the U.S. Air Force self-immolated while yelling “free Palestine” in a tragic protest of Israel’s genocide in Gaza in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Sunday afternoon. Aaron Bushnell, of San Antonio, Texas, was 25 years old and died later that day.

In his final acts, Bushnell, donning his army fatigues, recorded and live streamed his protest. In footage of his self-immolation posted by reporter Talia Jane on social media, he explains that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.”

“I am an active duty member of the United States Airforce, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” says Bushnell, who sent news outlets a link to his livestream prior to his self-immolation.

“I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal,” he continues in the video.

Standing in front of the embassy, Bushnell then douses himself in liquid and sets himself on fire. He repeatedly yells “free Palestine,” even as he screams in pain, and eventually falls silent. Those appear to be his last words.

As Bushnell committed his final act of protest, the official death toll from Israel’s genocide of Gaza was surpassing 30,000 Palestinians, with thousands more missing under the rubble, many presumed dead. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has reported that Israel has blocked food from entering the northern part of Gaza since January 23, and officials have warned that over 700,000 Palestinians in Gaza are on the verge of starving to death due to Israel’s starvation campaign. Horrors that would otherwise be unimaginable — like newborn babies dying from starvation, air strikes or the systematic destruction of an entire region’s medical system — are becoming commonplace for Palestinians amid Israel’s horrific assault.

As Bushnell falls over, a police or security officer is seen on video pointing a gun at his burning body. Another officer responding to the incident can be heard yelling, “I don’t need guns, I need fire extinguishers.”

Those who knew Bushnell described him as a principled and warm-hearted man who dedicated his time to mutual aid efforts.

“Aaron is the kindest, gentlest, silliest little kid in the Air Force,” someone identified only as Errico told Jane. “He’s always trying to think about how we can actually achieve liberation for all with a smile on his face.”

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a leftist political party in Palestine, released a statement honoring Bushnell, whose protest is extremely rare even within the history of anti-war self-immolation, since he was an active U.S. military member.

“The Front expressed its full solidarity with the soldier’s family and all the American sympathizers … confirming that the act of an American soldier sacrificing his life to draw the attention of the American people and the world to the plight of the Palestinian people, despite its tragic nature and the great pain it involves, is considered the highest sacrifice and medal, and the most important poignant message directed to the American administration,” the PFLP said.

Advocates for Palestinian rights have criticized coverage of Bushnell’s death by corporate outlets, which have held extreme pro-Israel biases for many years, for failing to lead with the fact that Bushnell committed his extreme act in order to send a message about Gaza. Headlines from most major outlets don’t mention what Bushnell was protesting; an earlier version of The Washington Post’s coverage criticized his protest as “problematic” due to his engagement in the act while in fatigues. Other outlets like NPR also appeared to be editing stories on the fly on Monday in order to take out controversial statements downplaying Bushnell’s message.

Bushnell is at least the second protester to self-immolate in recent months in protest of Israel’s genocide, and will be remembered alongside a long line of self-immolators who have protested wars across the world. In December, a person draped in a Palestinian flag set themself on fire outside of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta. Their act of protest was barely touched by the media, and they appear to never have been identified by news sources.

Advocates for Palestinian rights have organized a candlelight vigil to be held on Monday afternoon in the place where Bushnell held his protest.

Before his self-immolation, Bushnell appeared to have written a Facebook post calling for people to take action against the genocide. Along with a link to the Twitch channel on which he streamed his protest, he wrote: “Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

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