Desperate for Peace: From Tunisia to Gaza

Twenty-five-year-old Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, died on Sunday after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington DC as an act of protest against the slaughter in Gaza. Unfortunately, the act is noteworthy not because of the resulting suicide but for the underlying motivation behind it. That underlying motivation—and his last words, “Free Palestine”—was initially missing in American media coverage of the tragic incident until social media prompted mainstream coverage.

There is a growing sense that corporate America and our politicians just don’t care about our youth, especially those who serve in the military. This extreme form of protest took the life of a serviceman, not in combat abroad, but here at home in defiance of American foreign policy.

For those politicians who profess to genuinely care about our men and women in the armed services, answer this: How many active-duty personnel and veterans took their own lives since 1980 when the U.S. started documenting military suicides? Some estimate it’s in the six figures. That’s double the fifty-eight thousand killed in combat in Vietnam. America’s enemies don’t have to go to war to kill American soldiers. We are doing it to ourselves when we send our boys and girls to go fight in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan under false pretenses. They come back with PTSD, moral quandaries, and a host of other issues that prevent them from successfully reintegrating into society. Urinating on dead Taliban bodies doesn’t make America great.

If things are not bad enough with growing economic disparities between the rich and the poor, the opioid epidemic, the $34 trillion national debt, mass shootings, a growing divide in American society that are turning into battle lines, our best and brightest are killing themselves over a failed foreign policy that is polarizing the world against us. And Aaron is not the first to set himself on fire over the carnage in Gaza. Last December, a woman did something similar in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

It’s almost thirteen years to the date that Tunisian vendor Tarek Bouazizi self-immolated, igniting the “Arab Spring” in March 2011. He was harassed and humiliated, and had his wares confiscated by municipal officials. Many Arabs and Muslims live under corrupt authoritarian regimes that oppress their people. Those same broken promises of wealth, freedom, and democracy are robbing Americans of their dignity.

Before engaging in such an extreme act of protest documented on social media, Aaron said, “I will no longer be complicit in genocide. 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.” Indeed, AIPAC-bought politicians have decided death and destruction, even at home, is the new norm.

All these acts are born of desperation. If young American men are willing to die in their pursuit of freedom and justice, our politicians should take heed. Yet the Joe Biden administration and Congress continue to green light Israel’s atrocities as it fails to achieve any of its stated goals like destroying Hamas, returning the captives, or bringing security to Israelis.

The entire world is fearful of a wider regional conflict. The worse it gets for Israel the more it will want the United States to get involved militarily on its behalf. Israel is drowning, and it has no problem in taking us down with it. America cannot afford more wars, especially in the Middle East.

All too often our elected officials have been hearing from their constituents, “How many Palestinians have to die before you call for a ceasefire?” The question now is, “How many Americans have to die before you call for a ceasefire?”

Ashraf W. Nubani is a Palestinian-American attorney based in the Washington DC area. He holds a Master’s degree in history and writes on Muslim issues and the West.