American Soldier Self-Immolates Outside Israeli Embassy in Protest Against U.S. Backing of Gaza Conflict

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By Qayam Masumi, The India Observer, TIO: A tragic incident unfolded on Sunday outside the Israeli Embassy, resulting in the death of an active-duty airman who set himself on fire in protest against U.S. support for Israel’s actions in Gaza. According to a statement from a D.C. police spokesman, Paris Lewbel, the man, identified as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell from San Antonio, was pronounced dead at a hospital Sunday night.

The distressing event took place shortly before 1 p.m. on Sunday in the 3500 block of International Drive NW. A video circulating online, purportedly posted by Bushnell, depicts him referencing his service in the U.S. armed forces while passionately shouting “Free Palestine!” as he was engulfed in flames. Air Force spokeswoman Rose M. Riley confirmed via email on Sunday that “an active duty airman was involved in today’s incident,” although further specifics regarding his military background were not immediately available.

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Authorities stated that uniformed Secret Service officers promptly responded to a report of a person in a potential medical or mental health crisis and discovered the fire. These officers acted swiftly to extinguish the flames before D.C. firefighters arrived on the scene. Bushnell was urgently transported to a hospital due to the severity of his injuries, as indicated in a D.C. police report revealing his unfortunate passing at 8:06 p.m.

In a video lasting just over three minutes, Bushnell expressed his refusal to be associated with what he termed as “genocide.” As he approached the embassy, an individual could be heard offering assistance. However, within seconds, Bushnell allegedly poured an unidentified substance over himself and ignited it, according to the police report. Law enforcement promptly intervened to extinguish the fire.

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The Air Force refrained from disclosing specifics about Bushnell’s military background on Monday, in line with its policy of withholding such information until 24 hours after notifying the deceased service member’s family. It remained uncertain whether the Air Force would conduct an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident. The Pentagon has faced longstanding challenges in addressing suicide within its ranks. While self-immolations are infrequent, some instances have been linked to anti-war demonstrations.

Bushnell’s tragic act of protest swiftly elevated him to the status of a revered figure among certain anti-war and pro-Palestinian advocates. Particularly within Arab communities, the act of self-immolation carries profound symbolism, reminiscent of the Tunisian fruit vendor whose similar act in 2011 catalyzed pro-democracy movements across the Middle East, leading to the overthrow of dictatorial regimes.

On social media platforms, segments of Bushnell’s video, wherein he articulated his rationale moments before igniting himself, circulated among pro-Palestinian circles. Captions accompanying these snippets depicted him as a martyr, garnering widespread sympathy and support. Within hours, these posts amassed hundreds of thousands of likes and comments, often featuring emotive responses and the hashtag #FreePalestine.

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Linda Sarsour, a prominent Palestinian-American activist known for her leadership in the 2017 Women’s March, took to Instagram to share a photo of Bushnell, promising that he would be remembered as someone who bravely sacrificed his life to awaken a nation to action.

Meanwhile, amid the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, the toll of casualties continues to rise. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, at least 29,782 individuals have lost their lives in the Gaza Strip since the conflict commenced in October. Israel reports approximately 1,200 fatalities resulting from Hamas’s October 7 attack, with 240 soldiers among them since the initiation of military operations in Gaza.

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Edited By Adam Rizvi

Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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