In our thousands, in our millions: On Aaron Bushnell’s final act

Aaron Bushnell's self-immolation was a powerful display of opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the US’s culpability in this genocide.
What Aaron Bushnell did was an act of fierce, principled love in a situation of extreme desperation. It unflinchingly declared that even in the heart of the empire the lies of Zionism no longer hold.

Israel’s legitimacy in the West is not long for this world. There is no way to come back from what we have seen over the past five months, no way to collectively forget the bombings of hospitals, the children white with shock and plaster, the nurses shot by snipers while at work in operating theaters, the amputations without anesthesia, the toddlers screaming for their martyred parents, the starving pregnant women, the men paraded naked and bound, the elders imprisoned and tortured, the bodies of loved ones eaten by animals, the babies crying out in pain because they have not been fed (and will not be fed), the bodies of infants decomposing in ICU incubators. We will never unsee the teenagers camped out to block aid trucks, the soldiers parading with Palestinian women’s underwear, the celebratory TikToks of Israelis detonating university buildings and schools, the politicians calling publicly to ‘eliminate everything‘ and to ‘kill them all.’ Last December, after a US citizen self-immolated in front of the Israeli embassy in Atlanta (in a protest that was swiftly buried by the mass media), the consul general of the embassy called it an act of ‘hate’ against Israel, claiming that ‘the sanctity of life is our highest value.’ We laugh at this statement. We laugh because if we do not laugh, we will scream. 

Aaron Bushnell screamed ‘FREE PALESTINE’ as his body burned outside the Israeli embassy in DC on the 25th of February 2024. The force of his act has stirred the deepest parts of those of us struggling against Israeli/US genocide from within the heart of the empire. We will echo his screams and we will amplify them, a million times over, and from all corners of the earth. In death, Bushnell joins those martyred while resisting within Palestine, not only every resistance fighter but every civilian killed. On the day of Bushnell’s protest, almost one hundred people were martyred in Palestine, including Muhammed al-Zayegh, just 60 days old, who died of starvation. We honor them all. 

What Bushnell’s act revealed- as he knew it must- was that zionist lies are crumbling. On the day that he burnt himself alive, Aaron Bushnell wore his army fatigues and declared himself an active member of the US air force, not because he wanted to reclaim American nationalism (he was a self-declared anarchist with plans to leave the airforce), but because he understood the power of where he stood in relation to US empire. What his act declared so unflinchingly was that even in the heart of the empire– a twenty-five-year-old white man, an active member of the US military raised in a zionist household- the lies no longer hold. 

We cannot ignore what this means. Despite a global propaganda machine working overtime to tell us that targeting hospitals is not targeting hospitals and killing civilians is not killing civilians, awareness of Israel’s crimes is spreading like wildfire across the globe. This is due in no small part to the tenacity of the Palestinian armed resistance, which has managed to defy containment by Israel’s 40-mile long ‘iron wall’ and continues to resist an Israeli invasion on the ground. At the same time, Palestinian artists, writers, journalists, and academics have worked tirelessly to dismantle zionist colonization of the global- particularly Western- imaginary, with story, with song, with music, and with art.  

This resistance in all its forms is having ripple effects. Since October 7, people have continued to flood the streets in every nation with chants of ‘In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.’ Josephine Guilbeau, a former member of the US military, said on Monday at a vigil for Bushnell that ‘I don’t think this is going to be the last of our military members resisting. I feel like there are many, many Aarons out there. Who will speak for them?’ Israel’s lies have long lacked legitimacy among the peoples of the Global South, and particularly the Middle East. But today Taylor Swift fans show up to protests holding signs declaring ‘Swifties for Palestine‘ and videos of lawyers proclaiming the Israeli occupation ‘existentially illegal‘ before the International Court of Justice go viral on Twitter. Palestinian journalists reporting from Gaza have bigger online followings than the US president, and buildings in the West are emblazoned with their images and quotes. In a statement responding to Bushnell’s protest the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) stated “(Bushnell’s act) indicates that the status of the Palestinian cause, especially in American circles, is becoming more deeply entrenched in the global conscience, and reveals the truth of the zionist entity as a cheap colonial tool in the hands of savage imperialism.”

Israel’s legitimacy is crumbling, and it is taking the US empire with it. This is not to suggest that Israel is pulling the strings- rather, it shows how far the US is prepared to go before it will risk its hegemony in the region. The refusal of all but a handful of states to join the US-led coalition ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ to defeat Yemen in the Red Sea (notable among absentees was Saudi Arabia, which has since joined the BRICS group of nations alongside China, Russia and Iran) was telling. Increasingly, the imperialism of the Western media is being exposed, and voices from the Global South locating these lies within much longer histories of Western colonial violence are being heard in new ways, by a new generation. 

In a talk he gave on October 21st, 2023, historian Ilan Pappé stated: ‘Before October I wrote an article saying this is the beginning of the end of Zionism…after last week in fact I’m even more convinced. As happened in apartheid South Africa, this is a very dangerous period. The regime fights for its life….historically I have no doubt that this is what we are experiencing, we are experiencing cruelty and brutality because a certain regime is losing it, not because it’s winning, but because it’s losing.’ Israel’s attacks on Iran and Lebanon, attempting to lure the US into a broader regional war, are another sign of that desperation. 

When he stood in front of the Israeli embassy on Monday, engulfed by dark orange balls of flame, Aaron Bushnell was choosing to embody his refusal of this brutality. “I will no longer be complicit in genocide’ he had explained moments earlier, ‘I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people are 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.” What Bushnell did was an act of fierce, principled love in a situation of extreme desperation, in which the US political machinery and zionist media have cornered those of us who do not wish to be complicit in genocide into an increasingly restricted space.

Bushnell’s act will be (and has been) misrepresented by the imperialist mass media; this is no surprise. As with Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian vendor who burned himself to death in protest against the corruption of the Tunisian government, they will attempt to strip Bushnell’s death of its political content, to pathologize his act as somehow the result of individual mental illness (as if that were in itself antithetical to agency), to deem it a personal tragedy. Even within the movement, organizers have responded to Bushnell’s death by claiming that we must act ‘collectively’ and not ‘individually,’ lamenting his act as misguided and desperate. But what Bushnell’s protest demonstrated was that we are always-already collective, and that it is because of this that the truth of Israel’s violence will not be suppressed. This truth will resonate from within the deepest cracks of empire, a testament to the survival of that which binds us to those resisting in Palestine. It will appear in a brilliant burst of light, in millions of bodies flooding into the streets, in a chorus of voices thundering Bushnell’s words and those of every person resisting in Palestine since 1948: 




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Britt Munro
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