Airman Starts Hunger Strike at White House over Gaza, Inspired by Another Airman's Self-Immolation Death

Senior Airman Larry Hebert is goes on a hunger strike over Gaza
Senior Airman Larry Hebert is going on a hunger strike while on leave from his duty station to protest the violence in Gaza. (Provided/Larry Hebert)

A 26-year-old airman on leave from his overseas duty station is going on a hunger strike outside the White House to protest the war in Gaza -- a move he said was inspired by the self-immolation death of another airman in February.

Senior Airman Larry Hebert, an integrated avionics journeyman from New Hampshire currently stationed at Naval Station Rota in Spain, began the hunger strike at midnight April 1, he told in a Monday interview. Hebert, who has served for six years, plans to continue the hunger strike -- limiting himself to water and a juice supplement -- for as long as he physically can.

"I don't have a stop or an end for it right now," Hebert told in a phone interview. "I'm going to go until my body cannot go any longer or we get the cease-fire and the end of unconditional aid to Israel."

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Hebert, who has been standing in front of the White House with a sign that reads "Active-Duty Airman Refuses to Eat While Gaza Starves," marks the latest public protest of an airman in response to the violence unleashed on Gaza amid the Israel and Hamas war.

Senior Airman Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old active-duty airman from Whitman, Massachusetts, walked up to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., in February; doused himself with accelerant; and proceeded to light his body and Air Force uniform on fire. He died from the injuries.

Bushnell recorded the self-immolation, and a video of it was posted online. In it, the cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland calmly walks to the front of the embassy and says he is about to engage in an "extreme act of protest." He screamed "free Palestine" repeatedly before collapsing to the ground, engulfed in flames.

The war in Gaza has stoked extreme feelings and tested political divisions in the U.S., which has been a longtime ally to Israel. Hamas launched a complex terrorist attack into Israel on Oct. 7 that targeted Israeli civilians and communities, including a music festival where gunmen hunted and slaughtered festival-goers. The attack led to the death of an estimated 1,200 people, and Hamas also took 250 hostages.

Israel has responded with a massive, ongoing attack in Gaza aimed at rooting out Hamas, but it has been condemned around the world for killing civilians and pushing those trapped in Gaza to the brink of starvation. The death toll there has been estimated at more than 30,000, according to numerous media outlets that cited the Gaza Health Ministry.

Hebert said he was inspired by Bushnell's death -- but not just by the act itself. He was also inspired by the lack of response by the military.

"I felt and resonated exactly with how he was feeling, and so that was really powerful and influential," Hebert said. "But what really infuriated me was the response afterward. So, after his actions, leadership within the military and within our government was just silence. There was utter silence surrounding Aaron Bushnell and what he did."

Several days after Bushnell's death, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin said during an event at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., that the service was investigating the airman's suicide.

"We have about 100 or so suicides per year, and every year we try to get after, how do we reduce this?" Allvin said at the time. "So, right now, where we are in that case is, understanding that has a lot of political fervor attached to it, this is just one of our airmen that we lost."

Department of the Air Force officials did not comment when asked whether Hebert is violating any service guidelines by engaging in his hunger strike while on leave.

Department of Defense Instruction 1325.06 states that members of the armed forces are prohibited from participating in off-post demonstrations if they are on duty, if they are in a foreign country, if the activities constitute a breach of law and order, if violence is likely to occur, or if they are in uniform.

Hebert's service record, provided by the Department of the Air Force, shows he is an active-duty airman who joined in September 2018.

Hebert told that he plans to file an application to become a conscientious objector and also hopes his command will consider a reassignment for him. But he also fears punishment from the service.

"This is not something that the military exactly enjoys dealing with," Hebert said. "So, it's definitely not going to be the greatest conversation between me and my command. But hopefully they'll understand that I'm not out here saying that all the military is evil or that our government is evil or anything like that. I'm out here, objecting to the starvation, and the bombing and a siege of innocent civilians."

The U.S. has not sent troops to fight alongside Israel, but the government has been sending military aid such as Iron Dome rockets as well as some special operations forces to help Israel with intelligence operations and planning. The Navy has also sent ships to the Red Sea in response to attacks by Houthi rebels, who have targeted commercial shipping in solidarity with Hamas and the Palestinians.

Hebert plans to be in front of the White House this entire week and then outside of Congress starting April 8 when lawmakers return from recess. His plans were broadcast by Veterans For Peace, a nonprofit organization of military veterans advocating for an end to all wars.

Other veterans, service members and government officials have also been vocal about the ongoing violence in Gaza.

Following Bushnell's death, reported that veteran protesters in Portland, Oregon, set their military uniforms on fire. In November, more than 500 members of President Joe Biden's administration signed an open letter demanding that he push for a cease-fire, The New York Times reported.

"I'm definitely not alone in this," Hebert said. "I'm also not going to be silently supporting, like how most active-duty members are if they do support the cause. They're mostly silent about it."

Related: Veterans Burn Uniforms in Solidarity with Airman Who Died After Setting Himself on Fire to Protest Gaza War

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