Hundreds gather at Idaho State Capitol to honor Aaron Bushnell

In front of the Idaho State Capital, a circle of people are dancing dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance, as music plays from the speakers. The dancers are surrounded by hundreds of people, carrying signs, wearing the black-and-white keffiyeh head scarves, and some clap along. 

At 4 p.m. on March 10, the organization Boise To Palestine held a march for a cease fire and Gaza, and a vigil for Aaron Bushnell. 

Aaron Bushnell was a service man in the United States Air Force who committed self-immolation outside the Isrealie embassy in Washington D.C. in an act of protest against violence in Gaza, which the International Court of Justice [ICJ] has ruled is plausibly genocide. Bushnell stated he could “no longer be complicit in genocide” before setting himself on fire.

For the first Boise To Palestine organizer, who prefers to remain anonymous, the ruling did not go far enough. 

“It’s unfortunate because the situation really does warrant a lot more intervention from the ICJ especially the fact that the ICJ has stepped in [for] other causes before and I don’t feel like they’re really doing what they should be doing for the Palestinian cause,” they said.

“Just telling Israel a little slap on the wrist and telling them hey, just do better is not really what I was expecting from the International Court of Justice, I was hoping [for] a lot more.”

While the IJC’s ruling is legally binding it lacks enforcement mechanisms. According to another Boise To Palestine organizer, the wording of the ruling that finds a plausible genocide lacks the strong condemnation present in the Russia-Ukraine ruling. 

“It is the way that things get phrased, right? With Israel it’s always lenient, they always should minimize, but with Ukraine, they literally ordered an order to cease the operations in Ukraine. And it was a direct statement towards Russia that they must commit, it’s the wordage … it’s the wordage that really matters,” the second organizer said. “And there’s been no clear order by the ICJ towards Israel to halt operations immediately and take all troops back, only to minimize so again, it always goes, it all goes back to imperialist interests in the region.”

Boise To Palestine organized the march and vigil, the organizers feel that the media coverage so far has undermined Bushnell’s “act of extreme protest”.

Protestors and organizers alike criticized headlines that reported on Aaron Bushnell’s death but did not mention the genocide in Palestine —  the reason for his self immolation — in the headline. Others described painting Bushnell as mentally ill as a “smear campaign”.

“Self immolation is not a mentally unwell person’s choice for suicide. And I think that Aaron Bushnell made a decision that very few would be able to, in regards to saying I am willing to give my life in turn for trying to stop this genocide,” Morrighan Nyx, an organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), said. “And you know, in Portland, many veterans gathered for a vigil for Bushnell and burned their fatigues, some with medals still attached in honor of Aaron Bushnell and chanting ‘Remember Aaron Bushnell. He is not alone.’ And that I think that’s a very powerful statement of the fact that this war doesn’t have support.”

Boise To Palestine organizers have been hosting events for five months now to speak out against the genocide in Gaza. 

Israel has bombed a hospital, destroyed a university and fired on Palestinians waiting to receive aid. Currently, millions in Gaza are facing starvation, due to what the Boise To Palestne organizers believe is a calculated effort by Isreal to further genocide. Israel has called for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, (UNRWA) to be dismantled, after claiming that the members of UNRWA were implicated in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. UNRWA is the largest aid organization operating within Gaza to distribute food, water and medical shelter to Palestinians. The U.N. is currently investigating these claims.

“I can’t stand for this genocide at all. And I can’t understand how the US is paying for that, like my tax dollars are going into this. And I think it’s important to show up and it shows support for Palestine,” Dasani Rustici, a local accountant and member of the PSL said. 

The organizers were critical of the U.S. and Biden’s continued support of Israel, while at the same time making a commitment to aid in Gaza. Both the protestors and the organizers described these actions as “hypocritical”. 

“There’s a saying back home that we say, which goes like ‘he killed you and walked in your funeral’. So that tells you they’re killing us. They’re sending funds to Israel, but at the same time, they want to drop aid on Gaza to help the wounded and the families are still mourning the people who they helped fund to kill,” the second organizer said. “So it doesn’t make any sense. And it just shows the hypocrisy of the foreign policy.”

In addition to protesting continued U.S. aid to Israel, Boise To Palestine and the protestors were critical of what they described as a dehumanizing campaign against Palestinian people. They cited language from major U.S. outlets that discuss the violence differently, depending on whether the person was Israeli or Palestinian. 

“The media portrays this image of what Gaza is, what Palestinians are and people look at me differently [because] I was Palestinian, especially growing up in a post 9/11 America. But the reality is, the media is just spewing these lies,” the first Boise To Palestine organizer said. “And that’s spreading like wildfire throughout the country, but the reality is Palestinians are just like everybody else. And you know, if the media has changed the tone a little bit, I think people would maybe open up their eyes but [that is] the way that the media portrays it plays a role in continuing the genocide, because it allows people to feel like they’re doing the right thing.”

Boise to Palesitne organizers, some of whom are Palestinian, said that this has led to fear and distrust of Palesitnians. 

“I think it’s a long rooted history of seeing the Palestinians as anything less than people. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing that for generations now. People view Palestinians as just second class citizens,” the first Boise To Palestine organizer said. “And then it’s gonna continue to perpetuate until we bring that awareness to make people realize that Palestinians are just as human as anybody else. We are here living on the earth same as everybody else. And we just want to live freely and happily among other people.”

Nyx belives the unwillingness to believe that the destruction in Gaza is a genocide comes from the media’s reporting on the issue, which Nyx belives has been misleading and irresponsible.

“It’s coming from the fact that that’s the information they’re being shown … And when the overwhelming majority of those are spreading blatant lies, and you only have a few small voices pointing out the ways that they’re wrong, it’s very difficult to break through that,” Nyx said.

Boise To Palestine organizers said that the current criticism of Israel and Zionism often gets misconstrued as anti-semitic. 

“I want to encourage people to come out and understand the Palestinian picture because many people are scared to do so because we are portrayed as antisemitic people. Even though we are the original Jewish people, even though we are the sons of Korah, that our ancestors [were] Jewish people and other people so it’s important to open up your mind. Listen, and understand that we are not against Jewish people,” the second organizer said. “We have Jewish people ourselves [that] are fighting against zionism. And there’s a difference. So it’s important to look at the difference.”

The protesters marched from the Idaho State Capital and through downtown past Boise City Hall, and then back to the capital again for the vigil. As they marched they chanted “Every time the media lies, a neighborhood in Gaza dies”, and “Free free Palestine” among other pro Palestine and pro cease-fire chants. 

On the steps of the Capitol, the organizers had set up a black and white picture of Aaron Bushnell, and laid out flowers. One organizer sang the Grandmother Song, before having a moment of silence in honor of Bushnell.

As they sang, the protestors joined in, and hundreds of people sang “wake up child, wake up, wake up, listen listen”, asking for people to not let the current genocide to go unnoticed. 

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