Alberto Bradanini – Gaza and the Heroism of Aaron Bushnell

Probably the most fitting tribute to Aaron Bushnell

Alberto Bradanini is a former Italian diplomat. Among many positions, he was Ambassador of Italy to Tehran (2008-2012) and to Beijing (2013-2015). He is currently President of the Research Center on Contemporary China

Translation by BRAVE NEW EUROPE

Per leggere la versione originale in italiano andate QUI

1. With intelligence and empathy, Australian Caitlin Johnstone invites us to meditate on the horrors of our time, staying away from the megaphone of propaganda and meditating on the circumstance, systematically omitted by the latter, that Israeli violence against Palestinians certainly did not begin today.

In the years 1947/48, a time that Palestinians not coincidentally call Nakba, The Catastrophe, when out of a population of 1.9 million, over 750,000 Palestinians were violently driven out, while armed Zionist bands seized 78% of historic Palestine, after destroying hundreds of villages and towns and massacring over 15,000 poor unarmed Palestinians who had tried to defend their property, their families and their lives.

The Nakba is the unhealthy fruit of the Zionist ideology that developed in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century, in whose ideological core we find political-religious radicalism and the claim that Jews (nation, race and/or religion) were entitled to their own state, a right that was indeed alien to any national or international norms, but derived exclusively from the so-called holy scriptures, i.e. the most far-fetched imaginable.

In 1880, the population of Palestinian Jews was no more than 3% of residents. Unlike the Zionist Jews who would later arrive in Palestine, the original Yishuv did not aspire to build a modern Jewish state. From 1882 onwards, however, thousands of Jews began to settle in Palestine, fleeing the persistent persecution against them (pogroms and otherwise), but also attracted by the Zionist allure of building a religious state.

In 1896, the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl published a pamphlet (Der Judenstaat, or The Jewish State), which imposed itself as the ideological bible of Zionism. According to him, only the emergence of a Jewish state would protect his people from the centuries-old anti-Semitic impulses that were rife in Europe. The pioneers of this movement had considered the possibility to go to Uganda, southern Argentina or other remote locations, perhaps realizing that choosing Palestine would be a harbinger of trouble. Instead, the pathological messianic biblical concept prevailed, based on the irrationally primitive belief in a god who promised the so-called Holy Land to a specific people, who for this reason is called the chosen people. This election was never clarified in reality, since nobody knows the reason why God would have chosen this tribe – which lived in an irrelevant canton of the planet and which in the 20th century would be called the Middle East – and would have given it the duty to do great things, while other peoples, also presumably created by that same divinity, would belong to a second rank of humankind. Mysteries of faith!

Then we come to 1917, when, with the Balfour Declaration – a letter that the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a prominent figure in the British Jewish community – Britain pledged to encourage the birth of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

On 28 October 2017, Gideon Levy, a prestigious journalist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, summarises British hybris as master of the world this way: ‘an empire promises a land not its own to a people who do not live there, without asking permission from those who do’. “Only by resorting to the notion of ‘barbaric and colonialist arrogance’ can one qualify the feeling of revulsion that transpires from every word of that document”.

It was hinged on the so-called Mandate for Palestine, granted at Versailles to the British government at the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. In truth, the Mandate system was nothing more than a form of colonialism tailor-made for the Great Powers. Pretending to favour decolonisation, the aim was actually to legitimise the transfer to the victors of the territories lost by the defeated: Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.

2. ‘My name is Aaron Bushnell, I am an active-duty airman in the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be an accomplice to genocide. I am about to perform an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people are experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonisers, it is not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided is normal’.

With these words, Aaron Bushnell, on 25 February 2024, a heroic American soldier ended his life in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, to express to the world his rebellion against the complicity and silence of the powerful in the face of the continuous atrocities that Israel commits against the wretched humanity of Gaza. Only by raising the occult spheres of conscience and silencing the din around it, is it possible to partially penetrate the immensity of this young man’s gesture, a fighter whose ethical and human merit is beyond imagination. He was a meek and compassionate man who looked to the stars to try to escape the pain that oppressed him. Eternal honour to a young man with a heart glittering with humanity, filling the planet.

True, it is impossible to understand the deep-seated reasons that led a 25-year-old boy, loved, and appreciated by those who knew him, to prefer death over the battle for life and justice. That said, this choice deserves to be taken as a philosophical and human icon against the lack of empathy and ethical decay of so-called Western civilisation.

As a member of the US military, Aaron Bushnell was ashamed to be part of a repressive system that allowed (and still allows and facilitates) Israel’s inhuman massacres of the Palestinian people. The guilt had become unbearable for him, he did not want to resemble the agents of death, those cold bureaucrats of the Third Reich who lubricated the Nazi machine of extermination of the Jewish people. “I will not be an accomplice to genocide”, he added with chilling lucidity, as he walked towards death, having before his eyes, we are willing to bet, the thousands of Palestinians, including children, who are extinguished every day by the vengeful Israeli fury.

An individual gesture, that of Aaron Bushnell, his self-immolation, widely censored by the dominant media, nevertheless takes on an extraordinary choral significance, at a dramatic moment in human history. He reminds us of many others who, like him, have sacrificed their lives for the same horror: among them, the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức (Vietnam, 1963) and Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian fruit seller who in 2010 lit the fuse of the Arab Spring with his sacrifice.

In 1965, the great American journalist, Daniel Ellsberg, saw Norman Morrison, a 22-year-old boy, douse himself with paraffin in front of the office of Secretary of Defence R. McNamara in protest against the senseless Vietnam War. According to Ellsberg, those flames lit the fuse of protest throughout the country and contributed to the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the US’s responsibility in that conflict: from that moment on, the pro-war propaganda began to falter.

The Catholic priest, Daniel Berrigan, who had returned from Vietnam with a peace delegation, visited Ronald Brazee, a student who had doused himself with petrol in front of the Syracuse Cathedral (New York State) in protest against the war, in hospital. ‘He was still alive a month later,’ Berrigan writes, ‘and the smell of burning flesh was the same as I had smelled in Vietnam. The boy was dying in torment, like a piece of meat on the grill. My senses were invaded by the deepest anguish. I sensed the power of death in the world that was spreading in the Land of Burnt Children. I went to Catonsville as I did to Hanoi”. On 17 May 1968, Berrigan and eight other activists broke into a recruitment office, seized the files and burned them with home-made napalm. Berrigan is sentenced to three years imprisonment.

In 1969, Jan Palach climbed the steps of the Wenceslas Square Theatre, doused himself with petrol and died after three days. In his farewell letter, he states that this gesture was the only way to protest against the Soviet invasion. The funeral procession was interrupted by the police. Since candlelight vigils were held at his grave, the authorities tried to erase his memory, had the body exhumed, cremated and gave his ashes to his mother. In the winter of 1989, posters of Jan Palach covered all the walls of Prague. His death 20 years earlier is remembered as the supreme act of resistance against the overthrow of Alexander Dubček. Today, that place is called Jan Palach Square: he won.

One day, if the US corporate state and the Israeli apartheid state are dismantled, the street where Bushnell set himself on fire will bear his name. The Palestinians, now betrayed by the world, look to him as a beacon of light. His name is already engraved on the path of history. We are not messianic, the dead can wait, we try to understand events, but we have an intuition that his sacrifice was not in vain. It shakes the inattentive citizen from his somnolence, embarrasses the cynical observer, forces each one to revise his banal hermeneutics, prompts the fearful to act. In the practice of the ancient Greeks and Romans, immolation was the ritual of sprinkling salt and ground spelt on the sacrificial victim. Aaron’s self-immolation links the sacred and the profane, but to get that far he had to add that ingredient that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls the sublime madness of the soul, one of the few weapons available to the oppressed.

As he shouted “Free Palestine” and his body burns, Aaron participates in the essence of life, that of the entire human race, according to a religious ritual in its most sublime ethos.

Bouazizi was humiliated and depressed because the arrogant Tunisian authorities had confiscated his scales and the meagre products he sold for a living, but he had no plans to start a revolution. The injustices he suffered, however, started a chain reaction, resonating in the interstices of a suffering population. Burning is one of the most terrible ways to die, but also one of the most feared. This is how history acts.

Walter Benjamin had two friends, Fritz Heinle and Rika Seligson. Both took their own lives in 1914 in protest against German militarism and the world war. In ‘Critique of Violence’, he examines individuals who oppose radical evil with extreme acts, and comes to the conclusion that they obey the higher standards of moral justice and human dignity. Only the love of the desperate allows us to recover hope, Benjamin concludes.

By his example, the martyr allows an idea to go down in history, weakens the narrative of power and makes consciences restless. The oppressors do not lose sleep over this, yet they would do well to shut the door on them. If one can forgive the executioners, one must not forget their names, suggests the philosopher.

Dear Aaron, along with your body, the power machine intended to bury your memory as well. To them, you were nothing more than fleeting, mandatory, and annoying news, a man wrapped in depression and perhaps narcissism, in search of a tragic and ephemeral glory. But this is not the case. For the rest of the world and for history, you are entitled to be welcomed into the Olympus of nobility and heroism. Brother Aaron, son of that humanity that drives us to observe with tears in our eyes the mysteries of the universe along with the cruelty of humans, you may rest assured, wherever you are, that we will never forget you.

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