U.S. Airman Dies After Self-immolating Outside Israeli Embassy in Protest of Israel-Hamas War

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Police take security measures and investigate the crime scene after 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the US Air Force, set himself on fire Sunday outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images via JTA.org)

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON — A U.S. airman has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., where he shouted “Free Palestine!” in protest of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The man, who wore military fatigues and identified himself as Aaron Bushnell in a video that circulated online, was an active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force from Texas. He filmed himself on Sunday afternoon walking toward the embassy, saying he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.”  The clip was uploaded to the gaming platform Twitch and has now been removed.


“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 is not extreme at all,” Bushnell says in the video, a portion of which was posted by The Daily Mail. “This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.”

According to reporters who have viewed the whole clip, Bushnell, 25, shouted “Free Palestine!” as he burned.

The fire was extinguished by Secret Service members. First responders then brought Bushnell to a hospital, where he died of his wounds, according to Hannah Glasgow, a spokesperson for Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. She added that federal agencies are investigating the incident.

Tal Naim, a spokesperson for the Israeli embassy, confirmed the event and added, “No embassy staff were injured and are safe.”

Bushnell is the second person known to self-immolate in the United States in protest of the war. In December, another protester with a Palestinian flag set themselves on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta and was reported at the time to be in critical condition. That person has yet to be identified.

Self-immolation has been used as an extreme tactic of political protest for decades. The most famous instances occurred when a Buddhist monk self-immolated in 1963 in South Vietnam, and when a Tunisian fruit seller self-immolated in 2010, sparking the Arab Spring.

Bushnell’s charge that Israel is committing genocide is common among pro-Palestinian activists and vigorously denied by Israel and the United States. The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage. Since Israel began its counteroffensive in Gaza, which aims to eliminate Hamas and free the remaining hostages, nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. That number does not differentiate between combatants and civilians; Israel says 12,000 of the dead are Hamas fighters. More than 200 Israeli soldiers have died in the war since Oct. 7.

Hours before the self-immolation, Bushnell wrote on his Facebook page, “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.”

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