Kelly Hayes: Aaron Bushnell Died for Palestine

February 27, 2024

Aaron Bushnell died for Palestine. Bushnell, a 25-year-old active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force, set himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Sunday afternoon after declaring that he would “no longer be complicit in genocide.” As the flames consumed him, a police officer pointed a gun at Bushnell, who yelled out the words “Free Palestine” in pained screams until his voice fell silent. 

Despite the fact that Bushnell died while engaging in what he called “an extreme act of protest,” multiple major news outlets ran headlines that depoliticized his tragic death. A New York Times headline read, “Man Dies After Setting Himself on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy in Washington, Air Force Says.” CNN and Reuters both ran the headline, “US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in Washington.” The Washington Post took a similar approach, opting for the language, “Active-duty airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in Washington.” An article about Bushnell published by NPR stated, “As of Monday morning, NPR was not able to independently verify the man’s motives.”

Aaron Bushnell, however, had already verified his motives. Bushnell streamed his self-immolation on the platform Twitch using an account that was apparently created in order to broadcast his death. The original video was swiftly removed from the streaming platform. I watched a censored version, which was posted by journalist Talia Jane. Jane said they had received permission from Bushnell’s loved ones to post a version of the video that was edited to obscure the sight of Bushnell’s burning body. At the beginning of the video, Bushnell introduced himself, saying, “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.” As he approached the Israeli Embassy, Bushnell 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.” 

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