Gaza protests block gate at New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base

by Vern Evans

About two dozen protesters sat in the middle of a roadway blocking access to one of the main gates at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Thursday morning, waving flags and vowing to “shut everything down” over U.S. military support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

Base spokesman Rob Smith said Kirtland supports citizens’ rights to peacefully assemble and protest and that base security would monitor the situation throughout the day. Meanwhile, the gate would remain closed indefinitely and people who work on the base were advised to use other routes.

The protest comes just days after 16 people — including five students — were arrested at the University of New Mexico just a few miles away after they occupied the campus’ student union building and caused damage inside.

Kirtland, a base of around 22,000 employees in Albuquerque, is home to a range of air and space research-and-development programs, special operations units and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, which manages acquisition and sustainment of the service’s nuclear enterprise.

Thursday’s protest is the latest demonstration to target a U.S. military installation since Hamas militants attacked Israel in October, killing around 1,200 people and abducting around 250 hostages. Israel’s retaliatory invasion has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians as of the end of April, according to Gaza health officials.

In March, five protesters were arrested for blocking an entrance to Travis AFB, California, in opposition to America’s materiel support for the Israeli military. In November, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters in Turkey tried to storm Incirlik Air Base, which houses U.S. troops, ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Ankara for talks on Gaza.

Opposition to the war has come from within the U.S. Air Force as well.

Senior Airman Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old cyber defense operations specialist, died in February after setting himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington while declaring that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.” Bushnell walked up to the embassy shortly before 1 p.m. on Feb. 25 and livestreamed his self-immolation on the video streaming platform Twitch, The Associated Press reported at the time.

Bushnell’s death has prompted at least one other airman — Senior Airman Larry Hebert, an integrated avionics journeyman — to publicly protest the war. Hebert began a hunger strike April 1.

He told he planned to consume only water and a juice supplement “until my body cannot go any longer or we get the cease-fire and the end of unconditional aid to Israel.”

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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