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

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.

34 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: He Burned Himself Alive to Turn Eyes to Gaza

  1. Mary M
    February 28, 2024 at 16:35

    I’m not 100% ceryain, but pretty sure when they scrubbed his fb & his website, they missed his instagram.

    The artist, Aaron Bushnell

  2. UreKismet
    February 28, 2024 at 05:03

    Vale! 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell who set himself alight outside israels washington dc embassy
    If this good man had broken the record for school shooting victims, the world would know his name but because he confronted zionist genocide as he fell to his knees in agony shouting “Free Palestine!” the world’s corporate media will try to ensure you never do hear his name.

  3. hetro
    February 27, 2024 at 12:31

    It seems to me the power of Aaron’s sacrifice cannot be covered up or altered by sneering at him–especially as it affects young people. Here is a member of the military–and of youth. To think youth is not noticing, or will forget, is like trying to ignore what happened with the Vietnam War and Kent State, when student protesters were shot. Massive impact; possibly turning point in that war. And here in Gaza the horrific and brutal nature of this country’s complicity is even more obvious. Aarron’s terrible sacrifice is the most powerful act of protest we’ve seen yet. He said:

    “My name is Aaron Bushnell, I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” he says in a video of the incident. “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, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.”

  4. doris
    February 27, 2024 at 12:03

    I hope Aaron’s sacrifice is effective, brings attention to the war crimes our criminal government commits every single day. The US Government is the biggest terrorist organization on Earth.

  5. lester
    February 27, 2024 at 11:24

    Any formal statement from the Israeli embassy?

  6. Vera Gottlieb
    February 27, 2024 at 10:21

    Up to now (aged 84) I have never experienced the feeling of hatred but now…this is what I am feeling now. I already broke off with the Zionist part of the family – MY family they ain’t no more.

  7. robert e williamson jr
    February 27, 2024 at 09:11

    I do not mean to ignore what happened with this young man, but I’m not shocked. When authorities ignore the plight of these young people who serve the nation and jail them for being human beings the result is desperation.

    This is horrible in the worst sense of the word.

    I ask the leadership one question. Is this what you desire, if not wake the hell up and come to your senses.

    Police pulling guns on a man aflame is a new low for law enforcement and security providers. These tough guys were most likely in “shock” themselves.

    My gosh the torment of the family.

    In the words of the late great Robert Oppenheimer, “We have become death!”. The cause, by the inattention to our responsibilities to maintain our government in good stead and thereby our freedom.

    May this young man find peace.

  8. Katharina
    February 27, 2024 at 08:44

    Thank you, you have put my own feelings upon watching that video in better words than I could have done.

    One little point of critique, though – I’m not 100% sure, but as far as I know (and could see on the video) there was just one person pointing a gun at Aaron Bushnell while he was burning on the ground – a member of the Israeli embassy’s security. Utterly disgusting.

    The American police just scrambled to extinguish the fire while calling for more fire extinguishers. I’m not usually jumping to speak up for American police, but in this case they did nothing wrong.

    • robert e williamson jr
      February 27, 2024 at 20:22

      I stand corrected. You are correct. You might desire to do some research on Aaron and learn about his background. I believe it helps explain his actions.

  9. Gordon Hastie
    February 27, 2024 at 07:56

    We probably need to pity those who smear this person, whose humanity and courage is way beyond their comprehension. But many are simply taking the filthy lucre and at the same time pretending (or somehow convincing themselves) they are “good” while deeming others, for impurely political reasons, and really don’t deserve our pity.

  10. Tom Partridge
    February 27, 2024 at 05:04

    “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 poses a profound question here, to all of us, and gives us the answer at the same time. It is easier to feel brave in the aftermath of a great crime when the smell of death has dissipated when we could have done something and did nothing. When we could have spoken out, but remained silent.
    Aaron Bushnell gives us his answer, in real time, by making the ultimate sacrifice, forcing us to focus on the genocide taking place at this very moment. The MSM will attempt to misrepresent this courageous act of self sacrifice in ways that Caitlin has described, but history will judge it differently. It will be judged as an act of heroism way beyond anything most of us would contemplate. I feel a great sadness but my respect for this young man is beyond words.

  11. robert e williamson jr
    February 26, 2024 at 22:50

    I sincerely hope those at CN double check the links I posted and refer to in the earlier comment I submitted here.

    I cannot read and understand the material at the links I put in the comment. You have to do it yourselves.

    What I can do is give a personal guarantee that if one checks the materials out one will understand my point very clearly.

    What I wrote over there as a conclusive point is that once one sees and understands to wrong doing committed by all who assisted CIA in it’s efforts to cover up the true story of the JFK assassination, the reason for them going to the extraordinary links they did becomes obvious. These evil doers had invested everything they stood for into what amounts to the greatest crime of that century. At the time in question Zionist ruled the day.

    My opinion is that Angleton on his own gave the key to the end of the planet to the right wing Israeli Zionist. If anyone can find a better way to describe this go for it.

    Thanks CN

  12. Theresa Barzee
    February 26, 2024 at 20:59

    Yes, exactly like Vietnamese monks who self-immolated over the genocides in Vietnam. It must take a deep empathic soul and desperately courageous belief in such a decision. I hope we will never forget his message. May Palestinian people soon know freedom and the decency of people like this young man showed. Close this genocide down, for it is unbearable. Free Palestine. Thank you, Caitlin.

  13. Robin Abaya
    February 26, 2024 at 20:17

    The Zionist killers of the children of Gaza are responsible for the death of Aaron Bushnell. He did not kill himself any more than Rachel Cory, who died trying to protect a family in Gaza.

  14. Charles E. Carroll
    February 26, 2024 at 20:05

    All I can add is “Free Palestine”.

  15. robert e williamson jr
    February 26, 2024 at 19:38

    Ok! The Gloves are off for me. Straight to the heart of the problem that has become a rotting corpse hung around the necks of all True American citizens.

    I frequent Jefferson Morely’s jfkfacts at the SubStack, I’m a paying member so I have few difficulties getting to the comments section there.

    I will plead with anyone so interested to go to the site for this episode: hXXps:// -last-of -the-jfk-files-israels/comments?utm_source=substack%2Csubstack

    Now I’m on my knees begging. Go there go to the sites I have listed after reading my comments and them after studying the information provided return and read my comments again.

    What you will learn is the reasons for the United States taking a subservient roll to the right wind government of Israel.

    We all have been had by a government to dogdamned arrogant and ashamed to admit they screwed up BIG TIME.

    Ya ‘ll have a great evening.

    Thanks CN

  16. SH
    February 26, 2024 at 18:37

    Ann Wright has written a couple of excellent pieces in Common Dreams and World without War on this subject
    I think it would be good if CN reprinted them here ….

  17. February 26, 2024 at 17:21

    Caitlin Johnstone Your words are exactly how I felt I watched in tears and cried for a long time as I am doing now. I thank you for this and all your other writings for the people and not the Corporations

  18. Carolyn L Zaremba
    February 26, 2024 at 16:54

    I wish you would link to the video. Let people decide whether they want to click on it or not. It is now hard to find and everyone needs to see it and hear it.

    • floyd gardner
      February 26, 2024 at 19:41

      I found it on RT. Thank you, Caitlin. Google News has already moved on from a brief mention.

    • Steve Jack
      February 27, 2024 at 15:39

      I agree. It’s not easy to find or watch at all. (RT is virtually banned here in the increasingly fascist UK). We owe it to him to watch it. It insults his memory and his heroism that we cannot. There’s something very shameful and odd about this, and it’s disappointing to find that here, too.

    • Mary M
      February 28, 2024 at 16:30

      Al Jazeera has most if it. They cut the worst part.

  19. Anon
    February 26, 2024 at 16:30

    Bet on it! The smearmeisters will come out from under rocks in droves.

    • Realist
      February 27, 2024 at 03:38

      Ah, yes, the smearmeisters, as annoying as the various species of schlockmeisters. The worst of the lot lives in the White House and has deliberately chosen to relentlessly gin up support for warmongers, arms manufacturers and other war profiteers, oppressive money lenders, master practitioners of legal theft and world-class usury and even the less-specialised all-purpose haters, heartless transnational corporations and lying hypocritical politicians who methodically strip us of our freedoms and liberties (calling the process progress or reform) as his life’s work in the political arena. America’s current maestro of these fine arts accomplishes all the required deceit and dishonesty, ranging from simple evanescent fabrications and scintillating prevarications that may dazzle like a shooting star to the most elaborate false narratives and astounding whoppers with that signature crooked grin seasoned with just the right dash of sarcasm, or downright scorn if you happen to disagree with the bastard. At least he used to keep his mojo working and all his balls in the air until recently losing his mind. We shall not see his like again soon, not until after the next election.

  20. Linda in California
    February 26, 2024 at 15:26

    There are hardly words in our language that can express Aaron’s sacrifice for our country. Thank you, Aaron Bushnell, for your purity in even thinking we can be awakened. I’m so so sorry you had to suffer so much in this valorous gift to us.

  21. C. Crown
    February 26, 2024 at 15:23

    Why does everything we do these days have to be in the extreme? Sorry but he opened eyes that were already open. How much better if he lived to speak everyday. To speak in the face of world wide violence for as long as you lived at anytime you could? Sure sometimes that feels hopeless but death of one more person speaking out against the horrors of this world only diminishes our numbers even more. I wish he would have made another choice.

    • Cara
      February 27, 2024 at 11:29

      Brett Wilkins, writing for Common Dreams had this to say:

      “The late Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thích Nh?t H?nh explained in a letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that the monks and nuns who self-immolated were not committing suicide. Rather, their self-sacrifices were aimed ‘at moving the hearts of the oppressors, and at calling the attention of the world to the suffering endured.'”

      If you accept this, which I do, then Aaron Bushnell’s death by self-immolation was profoundly powerful and consequential, perhaps in ways nothing he could ever have said otherwise would have been. I believe he was displaying the purest clarity of mind, compassion, and courage a human being can ever embody.

  22. Odyssios
    February 26, 2024 at 15:07

    I agree with everything you said, but object strongly to the headline. I know it’s a riff on the phrase and Aldous Huxley book title ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ – but in the circumstances, I find the usage sickening.

    • Dfnslblty
      February 27, 2024 at 09:35

      ¿And what would your lede say?

  23. Susan Siens
    February 26, 2024 at 14:49

    People who knew him said he was the most principled young man they had ever met. And that’s what the institutions of power serving the deep state — the media, the churches, the politicians, etc — want to eradicate. Since they possess no sound principles, no ethics, no morals, they hate when someone else does.

  24. JonnyJames
    February 26, 2024 at 14:47

    As horrific as this is, thank you for bringing it to our attention. The MassMedia McNews certainly won’t

    “…The sound of a first responder telling police to stop pointing guns at Bushnell’s burning body and go get fire extinguishers…”

    In the US, we are only supposed to think about the “election” year wedge issue distractions. We should blame everything on immigrants and refugees who are largely victims of US foreign policy (genocide, death squads, illegal siege warfare (unilateral sanctions), creating failed states, neoliberal neo-imperialist financial and trade policy, etc. etc.

    The only “choice” is between two senile geriatric Zionist freaks to “vote” for. Either the D or R party who fall all over themselves to prove who can support Israel the most. The Best Elections Money Can Buy!

    • SH
      February 26, 2024 at 18:34

      No it is not the only choice – I am rather tired of hearing that the “only choices we have” are either D/Rs or not voting – we have had other choices for decades, literally – but we don’t have the guts to make them …

      • Slobobba
        February 27, 2024 at 11:58

        What are they? If there’s an alternative choice that will effect change beyond my own personal sense of principle I don’t know what it is. Please?

      • JonnyJames
        February 27, 2024 at 13:50

        Please, have you not heard of the Citizens United decision. You think the US is a democracy? Let’s not be so naive

Comments are closed.