Aaron Bushnell's self-immolation reflects the tragedy of inaction over Gaza

A ceasefire deal may be close, but without a permanent end to fighting frustration and anguish will continue to grow

Powered by automated translation

Protests against Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza have become a near-daily occurrence in the US, whose government has up to now backed Israel’s campaign unequivocally. On Sunday, however, the country witnessed the most shocking demonstration yet, when a US Air Force serviceman self-immolated outside the Israeli embassy in Washington.

The man was on fire for an entire minute, shouting “Free Palestine” between screams of agony as police officers rounded on him with their guns raised, ordering him – inexplicably – to “get on the ground”. In what appeared to be a moment of sudden clarity, a security guard at the scene yelled to other responding officers: “I don’t need guns – I need fire extinguishers!”

The serviceman died in hospital from his injuries. Meanwhile, efforts to forge a peace in Gaza continue. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised on Sunday that whatever the outcome of ongoing talks to secure a humanitarian ceasefire, his government will press on with plans to attack the Gazan city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians are sheltering.

Protests against Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza have become a near-daily occurrence in the US

The ceasefire talks, taking place between Israel, the US, Egypt and Qatar, are making progress, according to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. The countries’ representatives met in Paris on Sunday and “came to an understanding”, according to Mr Sullivan, about “what the basic contours of a hostage deal for a temporary ceasefire would look like”.

Any pause in fighting would present a valuable opportunity for humanitarian aid to reach beleaguered Palestinian civilians. And the release of hostages held by Hamas would be good news; they should never have been taken in the first place.

But Mr Netanyahu’s assertion that a deal would simply “delay” his designs on Rafah, coupled with the US’s insistence on any ceasefire being “temporary”, gives plenty of cause for alarm. If the primary motivation driving Israel’s war is the release of hostages, then it should seize the opportunity in the deal under discussion to end hostilities in exchange for their release. If the reasoning behind the war is something else – the “total destruction of Hamas”, as Mr Netanyahu has previously said, or some unspecified amount of revenge for Hamas’s October 7 attacks – then a drawn-out conflict would surely be on the horizon.

That would risk reversing the gains of any truce agreement and more. During a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned that a continuation of the war into Ramadan would “raise the danger of the expansion of the conflict”, with wider ramifications in the region.

Washington should take heed of that message as it gauges how to manage its junior ally’s bellicosity amid ceasefire talks. It should pay even closer attention to the growing discontent in America itself over a pro-war policy that becomes more inexplicable by the day.

Published: February 27, 2024, 3:00 AM