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Acts of Bravery in Stance with Palestinian

posted on: Feb 28, 2024

By: Malak Hassouna /Arab America Contributing Writer 

Trigger Warning: this article talks about Self-immolation!

“Self-immolation is the act of intentionally setting oneself on fire as a form of protest. It can also refer to acts of altruistic suicide or the act of giving up one’s body in an act of sacrifice”. 

What Happened on Sunday?

Aaron Bushnell was a 25-year-old Texas native who participated in the act of self-immolation in front of the Israel Embassy in Washington, DC, on February 25, 2024. Mr. Bushnell was an active-duty member of the United States Air Force who approached the Embassy in his fatigues, filming himself and stating, “I will be no longer 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 colonizer, it is not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal. Free Palestine. Free Palestine.”

Bushnell’s self-immolation in apparent protest of the Genocide in Gaza was not the first. An act of “extreme political protest” against the war was reported by the authorities to have occurred in December when a person set themselves on fire in front of the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta. They lived, but her whole body was burned in the third degree, leaving her in serious condition at the hospital. Police have not revealed their identity.

So, what is the difference between them and Bushnell?

One of the things that stuck out with people on social media and at his vigil that was on Monday night in front of the Israeli embassy was the fact that he was an active duty member of the military. Additionally, he was very vocal about his dissent of his country’s actions in light of the genocide. One of his posts just hours before committing this act read: 

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.” 

He was echoing a sentiment that a lot of Palestinian support has been. Why are people not doing anything? 

How did Law Enforcement Respond?

Additionally, something that stood out was the response in the first moments that he was participating in these acts and the aftermath of it. The Metropolitan Police Department issued a statement stating that its bomb squad had been called in to investigate a suspicious car and that its officers had arrived at the site outside the Israeli Embassy to support US Secret Service agents. The vehicle had no dangerous items, according to the police. Additionally, as Bushnell was burning, one officer grabbed a fire extinguisher, and another grabbed a gun. The officer yelled, “I don’t need guns; I need fire extinguishers.” The dispatch call made from the unit outside the embassy called it a “mental distress call.” While he was taken by ambulance to the hospital, he was reported dead that night.

This act has been known to be a sign of protest throughout time, from the Vietnam War to the Arab Spring to the Genocide happening in Gaza. The world has seen time and time again these people commit this act to show their acts of desperation to the world. The act is considered the “most violent nonviolent act of protest.”  

On Monday night, people in the DMV area gathered at the scene of the incident to remember the brave acts of Aaron Bushnell, but also around the country to remember his memory and keep pushing for an end to the genocide and applying pressure on the current administration to act. These vigils included speeches from his friends and family, Jewish Voices for Peace, the Palestinian Youth Movement, and many more. 

It is important to note that Bushnell’s death shocked many and saddened more; this act was not an easy one. His act showed the desperate times we have reached in over 140 days of unrest in the Middle East. He also demonstrated that the West does not want to be complicit in the acts of their government. 

We remember Aaron today and every day. His memory lives on with the Palestinians who have lost their lives. We pray for his friends and family through these times.

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