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Will Biden change course on Gaza policy?

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-03-08 17:01

This file photo taken on Dec 4, 2019 shows a view of the Capitol Hill in Washington DC, the US. [Photo/Xinhua]

Amid relentless world-wide protests calling for an end to Israel's aggression on Gaza, Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the US Air Force, set himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, declaring that he would "no longer be complicit in genocide". His remarks are noteworthy since he is a US Air Force active-duty member and has significantly more knowledge than the average protestor. This self-immolation cannot be easily dismissed as an act of "anti-Semitism," "terrorism," or "insanity".

Numerous questions spring to mind: Did this officer voice his disapproval to US Air Force superiors and peers? Did he see anything that made him decide he would not be complicit? How did he get to this point of hopelessness in a democratic country like the United States?

Bushnell was not the first individual in the US to self-immolate in order to protest the US government's support for genocide in Gaza. In the last three months, two people in the US have attempted or risked taking their own lives in an effort to change the US policy on Palestine, call for a cease-fire and an end to the US' funding to Israel. In December 2023, a female protestor, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, self-immolated outside an Israeli consulate building in Atlanta, in what US authorities described as "an extreme act of political protest". Further reporting on the identity and the fate of the individual in that case was not pursued by most Western media outlets.

Bushnell died for a free Palestine, but US corporate media outlets have tried to suppress the meaning and context of his sacrifice. The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN purposefully excluded Palestine, Gaza, and "genocide" from Bushnell's self-immolation headlines. Most mainstream headlines did not assert Aaron's reasons for protest. However, the video, which he live-streamed on Twitch, and the act itself show his moral clarity in his political reasoning, yet the US media spun the narrative as that of a mentally-ill, troubled youth. It is evidence of how the politically-biased US media portrays self-immolation as an outcome of mental illness or religious extremism.

The US Airman's raises the question: Will it stir US policymakers' consciences to protect human rights, a core component of democracy? Will the West wake up from its blind support of Israel? Given the way US foreign policy has unfolded in favor of Israel, it is likely that US media will present some story to make sure that questions that must be raised are not asked.

Bushnell's self-immolation underscores the American public's outrage about the official American complicity in the Palestinian massacre in the Gaza Strip. It also highlights the moral dilemma that many US military members have due to their affiliation with "an institution of killing." By livestreaming his death, Bushnell taunted Americans to see the type of carnage that the nation has enabled in Gaza, where Israeli soldiers have massacred over 30,000 Palestinians. According to the UN, the Israeli war on Gaza has pushed 85 percent of the territory's population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 percent of the enclave's infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. Bushnell undoubtedly made the ultimate sacrifice to bring a stop to a genocide conducted, backed and funded by the Biden administration.

Bushnell sent a message to all people of conscience worldwide, asking them to reject being part of the atrocity. Two US officials openly resigned over Biden's Gaza policy before the airman's self-immolation, using identical sentiments. Josh Paul, head of the US State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, resigned in October 2023 saying: "I fear we are making the same mistakes we have made in the past decades, and I decline to be a part of it for any longer." These actions are a manifestation of the rising discontent in American circles about America's unconditional support for Israel. The airman's highly public act may encourage people in the US government or the military to become more vocal against its injustice war across the world.

Americans have demonstrated against the use of public funds to support Israel's genocide, and Democrats have been widely critical of the US government's breach of laws prohibiting the sale of weaponry to groups that violate human rights. In spite of all logic and reasoning, as well as the International Court of Justice's ruling that Israel is committing "plausible genocide," the US government continues to support Israel with nearly $4 billion (28.7 billion RMB) in annual military aid and diplomatic support, including four vetoes of UNSC cease-fire resolutions. The Biden administration is seeking an additional $14.3 billion in armed assistance for Israel, and has twice sidestepped Congress to fast-track emergency military aid. Last month, The Intercept reported that Biden's administration had dispatched the US Air Force to help Israeli forces with bombings in Gaza. Bushnell's sacrifice serves as a sobering reminder that no conscientious American would tolerate their government's involvement in the massacre of innocent people.

The tragic event of Bushnell is expected to increase worldwide outrage against Israel's unlawful actions in Gaza, notably the claimed "genocide" and impending assault on Rafah, a "safe zone" overflowing with displaced Palestinians. We also expect that the self-immolation will cause a shift in US President Joe Biden's steadfast support for the war, not just in Gaza but also in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Let his sacrifice not be in vain. How the US responds to the Air Force member's self-immolation will reflect how much its own democratic ideals have corroded in its unquestioning support for Israel since October 7 of last year.

Kamal Uddin Mazumder is security and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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