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Aaron Bushnell’s protest through self-immolation shines light on the Israel-Hamas War

Julia Brossia
On Feb. 28, 2024, the Party for Socialism and Liberation held a vigil for Aaron Bushnell outside the United States Army Recruitment Center in Ventura, Calif. Many gathered to honor Bushnell’s death and bring attention to the Israel-Hamas War.

On Feb. 25, 2024, Aaron Bushnell lost his life in an act of self-immolation outside the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. as he screamed the words “Free Palestine” in protest of the war in Palestine. As a 25-year-old member of the United States Air Force, Bushnell stood outside the embassy gates on livestream as he lit himself on fire. After being transported to a local hospital in critical condition, Bushnell passed away later that evening. 

Only hours before the incident, Bushnell posted on Facebook posing the question, “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.”

In the day leading up to the event, Bushnell had emailed multiple news outlets to alert them of his plans “to engage in an extreme act of protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people,” leaving a link where the video of his self-immolation could later be viewed. 

Later that afternoon, Bushnell began his livestream as he approached the Israeli Embassy with a bottle of flammable liquid in hand. “I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” he stated. “I’m 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.”

Bushnell placed his phone on the ground, then proceeded towards the gates of the embassy, he poured the flammable liquid over his head and set himself on fire. As the flames engulfed him, he shouted “Free Palestine” several times before eventually collapsing to the ground. In the background of the livestream, a law-enforcement officer can be heard demanding Bushnell to “get on the ground,” to which another officer replied, “I don’t need guns, I need fire extinguishers.” 

At Aaron Bushnell’s vigil, canvases were filled with hopeful and respectful messages written by attendees of the vigil as they recognized his act of protest and mourned his passing. (Julia Brossia)

D.C. Fire and EMS eventually made it to the scene after the fire had been extinguished, and Bushnell passed away due to his burn injuries in the hospital seven hours later. 

A few months prior to the event, a similar act of protest was carried out in Atlanta by an individual whose identity remains undisclosed to the public. The protester similarly performed an act of self-immolation on Dec. 1, 2023, outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, leaving them with critical injuries. 

Protests, against and for, the war in Palestine have been taking the nation by storm. These protests have occurred since the beginning of the Palestine-Israel conflict, dating back to the early 1900s.

The war between Israel and Palestine has been unwinding for more than a century, beginning with the Balfour Declaration, when Britain aimed to establish a Jewish state in Palestine on Nov. 2, 1917. This Zionist plan put Britain in control of Palestinian administration, eventually facilitating the immigration of European Jewish individuals into Palestine. Following this declaration was also a mass migration of Jewish people escaping Nazi Europe, prompting a Palestinian Revolt as a result of the major demographic change and armed Zionist militias attacking the Palestinians. 

Amidst the violence, the United Nations (UN) divided Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, leading to the displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their home country. This division of Palestinian land also resulted in the blockade of Gaza after Hamas, an Islamist militant group, arose in 2007. 

After Hamas attacked Israel’s Southern communities along Gaza’s border on Oct. 7, 2023, the Israeli military implemented an ongoing bombardment on Gaza from that day forward, which has yet to cease. Bushnell self-immolated to protest what he believed is the colonization of Palestine and the war waged against the Palestinians. 

While Bushnell’s act of protest has caused many to believe that his death was a suicidal act and indication of mental illness, it has also sparked a multitude of vigils honoring his death and protests against the Israel-Hamas War as he is celebrated as a martyr by supporters of Palestine.

The Party for Socialism and Liberty in Ventura County, Calif. hosted a vigil to honor Bushnell as a martyr for Palestine, as well as acknowledging the names of martyrs that have passed since Oct. 7, 2023. The party has hosted multiple events in Ventura County protesting the war in Palestine, Zionism and the genocide of Palestinian civilians.  

As the war between Palestine and Israel progresses, many Americans have been impacted by the catastrophic loss of human life. Aaron Bushnell’s life will be remembered by many amidst the ongoing conflict in Palestine. 

Editor’s Note: There was an amendment made on March 11, 2024 at 10:42 a.m. clarifying what Bushnell’s views were regarding the Israel-Hamas War and his personal reasons for self-immolation.

What do you think?
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About the Contributors
Julia Brossia
Julia Brossia, Writer
Second-year writer, Swiftie and opossum lover.
Maggie Lay
Maggie Lay, Reporter
I am a junior news writer who enjoys spending time with family, baking and going to petting zoos.

Comments (5)

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  • L

    LucasMar 14, 2024 at 8:40 am

    I am always dismayed that the fact that Palestinians have been offered a homeland multiple times, and have rejected it each time (1949, 1999) is overlooked. This author does not cite any of the recent Palestinian violence- the first intifada 1988 and the second intifada 2002.

    You may know Mr. Bushnell’s history- that he was raised in an isolated, fundamentalist Christian community near Cape Cod, and that he truly wrestled with adjusting to the reality of the world once he stepped out of his deeply-sheltered upbringing. That his political views bounced from a far-right upbringing to the far-left, I think depicts the dangers of extremist thinking, and the ability to see the world as more nuanced than from a right/wrong, good/evil mindset.

  • I

    Inessa GelmanMar 12, 2024 at 11:40 am

    The article’s apparent lack of objectivity and knowledge as well as the way it currently portrays the intricate Israel-Palestine conflict are my main points of worry. After further inspection, it becomes clear that the article strongly favors one story over another, portraying Aaron Bushnell as a “martyr for Palestine” and the fight as a straightforward instance of the “colonization of Palestine.” The article’s wording is vague and falls short of giving readers a thorough grasp of the historical nuances and variety of viewpoints that are present in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    • S

      Sophia SallesMar 12, 2024 at 6:51 pm

      This is not an article detailing the events of the Israel-Palestine conflict but a news report about a protestors death. Therefore the main point of the article was not about the conflict, so detailed historical nuance is not relevant or necessary to this article. The brief contextualization of an event being reported on is standard in news reports. Also, you seem to be the one lacking objectivity, as you excerpted “martyr for Palestine” to try to prove that this article used a personal opinion, despite it coming from the middle of the statement “The Party for Socialism and Liberty in Ventura County, Calif hosted a vigil to honor Bushnell as a martyr for Palestine” which is not only a true fact about the opinion of that organization but a relevant statement as the FDP creates media reporting on the news of our community of Ventura. Nothing in this article states the opinions of the authors, but is reporting on a story that has impacted and mattered to them and their community. That is the fundamental idea of a high school journalist publication. If you would like an opinion article sponsoring your own beliefs I would suggest you look elsewhere, or write your own, as FDP writers strive for journalistic integrity.

  • B

    Ben BarnettMar 11, 2024 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for making this article. Aaron Bushnell committed a great act of self sacrifice, and he will surely be remembered for a long time. FREE PALESTINE

    • G

      GraceMar 16, 2024 at 3:55 pm