US airman stages hunger strike outside White House in solidarity with Gaza

Inspired by the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell, Larry Hebert left a naval base in Spain to stage a protest in Washington

Active duty US airman begins hunger strike outside White House in support of Gaza

Active duty US airman begins hunger strike outside White House in support of Gaza
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On a wet and chilly day outside the White House, Senior Airman Larry Hebert wears a placard decrying the plight of starving Palestinians in Gaza as he begins a hunger strike.

“I’m protesting the collective punishment of Gazans through bombing and starvation,” the active-duty military member The National.

The placard displays a photo of an emaciated child – a jarring image to see amid the hustle and bustle of tourists who have come to view the home of the US president.

While demonstrations and political signage are a common sight outside the White House, Mr Hebert, 26, attracts a lot of attention.

Between fielding interviews with television stations, a Lebanese woman who now lives in the US tearfully approaches the New Hampshire native to give him her blessing.

“The Gazans are starving, they are dying,” the woman, who gives her name as Fadia, tells The National.

In March, Mr Hebert left Naval Base Rota in Spain on authorised leave. He said he started his hunger strike on Monday, moved by the images coming out of Gaza, where about 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to local authorities.

The airman's action is a rare stand by a member of the armed forces against the policies of the US government, but he has found it impossible not to speak out.

“You can’t watch dead children every day,” Mr Hebert says. “Starving children, bloodied, injured and dismembered – it’s not normal.”

He is demanding a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end of US weapons shipments to Israel.

Mr Hebert says he was inspired by the death of fellow airman Aaron Bushnell, who set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington to protest against the war.

Mr Bushnell’s self-immolation led to an outpouring of support from pro-Palestine protesters around the world.

“People in Yemen and in Gaza were holding up his image and sending their condolences,” Mr Hebert says.

“But our government didn’t say anything about Aaron – they just swept it under the rug. It was a very big turning point for me to see that.”

Mr Hebert says there is no cut-off date for his hunger strike and acknowledges his actions may lead to disciplinary action from the US military.

“There is the impending call from my command,” Mr Hebert says.

“But I’ve already evaluated the situation and I’ve come to terms with the worst-case scenario.”

The Air Force declined to comment on Mr Hebert's situation but confirmed he is a senior airman who enlisted in 2018. He has been given various awards including a humanitarian service medal, a good conduct medal and a global war on terrorism service medal.

Updated: April 04, 2024, 1:44 PM