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Who Is Aaron Bushnell, The US Airman Who Set Self On Fire In Protest Over Gaza 'Genocide'

The U.S. airman lit himself and repeatedly shouted 'Free Palestine' before being attended to by Secret Service officers. He died seven hours later at a hospital.

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AP
Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire in protest over Gaza 'Genocide' | Photo: AP
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A U.S. airman died after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington D.C. on Sunday, shouting "free Palestine."

Aaron Bushnell, 25, was taken to hospital after Secret Service officers extinguished the fire.

In video footage shot both before and during his self-immolation, Bushnell says that he will “no longer be complicit in genocide” and that he is “about to engage in an extreme act of protest – but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers is not extreme at all”.

Following the act, Bushnell repeatedly shouted "Free Palestine" before being attended to by Secret Service officers. He died seven hours later at a hospital.

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The incident comes amidst growing global protests against Israel's military actions in Gaza and U.S. support for Israel since war broke out after the Oct. 7 assault from Palestinian militant group Hamas. 

At least 29,878 people have been killed and 70,215 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza so far.

Aaron Bushnell’s Background

Aaron Bushnell was a 25-year-old member of the U.S. Air Force. Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, he was stationed in San Antonio.

In a video aired live on the streaming site Twitch, Mr Bushnell, who was dressed in military uniform, identified himself and said he was a serving member of the Air Force. 

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He joined the Air Force as an active-duty member in May 2020 and has since worked in information technology and development operations. On his LinkedIn page, Bushnell wrote that he was looking to “transition out of the US Air Force into software engineering.”

The Self-Immolation

Hours before lighting himself on fire, Bushnell posted a Twitch link on his Facebook page with the caption:

"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."

Prior to the incident, he had emailed many reporters, as well as left-wing and anarchist news sites. Among the organisations that got the email was the Atlanta Community Press Collective, which gave a copy to the BBC.

The email read: "Today, I am planning to engage in an extreme act of protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people,” with a warning that it would be "highly disturbing".

Self-immolation has a long history as a form of protest, gaining particular prominence during the Vietnam War and the Arab Spring in Tunisia.

In December, an unidentified individual with a Palestinian flag was critically injured after setting herself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Atlanta.

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