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“I will no longer be complicit in genocide”

Updated: May 23

Warning: this article contains a graphic image of the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell

"My name is Aaron Bushnell, I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. 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."

These were the final words of Aaron Bushnell, before he committed self-immolation to protest the horrific scenes continuing to unfold in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.


The 25 year-old videoed himself as he walked toward the Israeli embassy in the US capital of Washington DC. Bushnell pours fuel on himself, dons his cap and sets himself alight shouting, “Free Palestine,” as the flames engulf his entire body. As the flames grow more ferocious, Aaron Bushnell eventually falls to the ground continuing to yell, “free Palestine” until he is no longer able as others, now present, call for fire extinguishers. 


As the camera rolls on it captures the chaos that follows including one male police officer who persistently holds a gun, pointed at the burning body. This all too familiar scene in the US, a police officer turning to their weapon for no reason, would have accomplished what?


Bushnell grew up in Orleans, Massachusetts and started his career in the US Air Force in 2020. He was studying cyber-security and had been trained as a client system technician.


Speaking to Democracy Now! Bushnell’s friend and conscientious objector Levi Pierpont, spoke of how the two initially shared the same goals when entering the military - which included getting out of their bubble, seeing more of the US, seeing the World and meeting people from different backgrounds. However, this enthusiasm soon dwindled. Pierpont states that they experienced a shift in mindset as a result of what they both learned and witnessed during their time within the US military.

Self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell (image: Aaron Bushnell)


Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and has received over $317bn between 1948 and 2022. This is more than twice that of the second largest recipient in the same period. Since the creation of Israel in 1948 the US has shown them continued and persistent support. Their unwavering support has been apparent throughout recent months. At the same time that South Africa accuse Israel of violating the UN's 1948 genocide convention, which was established in the wake of the holocaust, Joe Biden continues to stand as an ally beside far-right Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu. 


In the days following the heart-breaking death of Aaron Bushnell there has been speculation over the mental well-being of the 25 year-old. However, this is deeply unfair and intentionally distracts from the poignant protest he undertook and point that Bushnell makes. As Pierpont says, “We have to honour the message that he left.” Bushnell died, giving up his life, to protest the seemingly endless killing of innocent civilians at the hands of the Israeli state in a genocide. The media coverage following his self-immolation attempts to discredit Bushnell and dilute his message rather than highlight the atrocities being carried out in Gaza.


Bushnell's message is clear: ‘Free Palestine.’


Many people might find Bushnell’s form of suicide difficult to comprehend but rather than speculate about his sanity we should be heeding his message and understanding the context in which he undertook this protest. His suicide was committed in the hope that a genocide will end. But as of this moment, it remains merely a hope. We are far from any resolution.

On February 29th Palestinians were brutally targeted once more when Israeli forces opened fire on a desperate and starving crowd seeking food aid. The results: at least 112 killed and 760 wounded. These figures are devastating. As the UN aid chief Martin Griffiths stated, “life [is] draining out of Gaza at [a] terrifying speed.” This latest mass killing speaks as to why Bushnell was protesting in such an extreme manner. His chosen form of protest, self-immolation, has a long and important history.

In 1963, Vietnamese monk Thích Quảng Đức died by self-immolation on a busy street in Saigon protesting the treatment of Buddhists by the US backed South Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. Recently self-immolation has become more common form of protest on US soil highlighting the severity of our current political climate. On Earth Day 2022, on the steps of the Supreme Court, climate activist Wynn Bruce committed the act protesting against the lack of action taken to tackle the catastrophic ramifications of climate change, set to kill and displace possibly billions.

Yet again, a cry for decency, kindness and empathy seems to have fallen on deaf ears. It makes me wonder, did these men die in vain? I sincerely hope that they have not.


Lead image: Grace Rockya

Second image: Aaron Bushnell

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