Caitlin Johnstone: He Burned Himself Alive to Turn Eyes to Gaza

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We each have own our personal response to Israel’s incineration of Gaza. This was Aaron Bushnell’s.

Free Palestine die-in demonstration at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5, 2023. (Diane Krauthamer, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Caitlin Johnstone

I watched the uncensored video of U.S. airman Aaron Bushnell self-immolating in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington while screaming “Free Palestine.” I hesitated to watch it because I knew once I put it into my mind it’s there for the rest of my life, but I figured I owe him that much. 

I feel like I’ve been picked up and shaken, which I suppose was pretty much what Bushnell was going for. Something to shake the world awake to the reality of what’s happening. Something to snap us out of the brainwashed and distracted stupor of western dystopia and turn our gaze to Gaza. 

The sounds stay with you more than the sights. The sound of his gentle, youthful, Michael Cera-like voice as he walked toward the embassy. The sound of the round metal container he stored the accelerant in getting louder as it rolls toward the camera.

The sound of Bushnell saying “Free Palestine,, then screaming it, then switching to wordless screams when the pain became too overwhelming, then forcing out one more “Free Palestine” before losing his words for good.

The sound of the cop screaming at him to get on the ground over and over again. The sound of a first responder telling police to stop pointing guns at Bushnell’s burning body and go get fire extinguishers.

He remained standing for an unbelievable amount of time while he was burning. I don’t know where he got the strength to do it. He remained standing long after he’d stopped vocalizing.

Bushnell was taken to the hospital, where independent reporter Talia Jane reports that he has died. It was about as horrific a death as a human being can experience, and it was designed to be. 

Shortly before his final act in this world, Bushnell posted the following message on Facebook:

“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.”

Aaron Bushnell has provided his own answer to this challenge. We’re all providing our own right now.

I would never do what Bushnell did, and I would never recommend anyone else does either. That said, I also can’t deny that his action is having its intended effect: drawing attention to the horrors that are happening in Gaza.

I know this is true because everywhere I see Aaron Bushnell being discussed online I see a massive deluge of pro-Israel trolls frantically swarming the comments in a mad rush to manipulate the narrative. They all understand how destructive it is to U.S. and Israeli information interests for people to be seeing an international news story about a member of the U.S. Air Force self-immolating on camera while screaming “Free Palestine”, and they are doing everything they can to mitigate that damage.

As I write this, there are with absolute certainty people digging through Bushnell’s history searching for dirt that can be spun as evidence that he was a bad person, that he was mentally ill, that he was steered astray by pro-Palestine activists and dissident media — whatever they can make stick. If they find something, literally anything, the smearmeisters and propagandists will run with it as far as they can.

That’s what they’re choosing to do at this point in history. That’s what they would have done during slavery, or the Jim Crow south, or apartheid. That’s what they’re doing while their country commits genocide right now. People are showing what they would have done with their response to Gaza, and they’re showing what they would have done with their response to the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell.

I’m not going to link to the video here; watching it is a personal decision on which you should probably do your own legwork to make sure it’s really what you want. Whether you watch it or not, it happened, just like the incineration of Gaza is happening right now. We each own our personal response to that reality. This is who we are.

Listen to Tim Foley reading this article. 

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloudYouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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