Three Palestinian Students Shot in Vermont

Malik Miah

Palestinian students Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdel Hamid and Tahseen Ahmed. Awartani family handout via REUTERS

THREE YOUNG PALESTINIAN men have been shot near a university campus in Vermont, after a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy was stabbed to death in Illinois in October, raising alarms against rising Islamophobia in the country.

Critics say the mainstream media coverage and the political discourse have caused anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment to increase amid Israel’s war on Gaza, which has killed nearly 15,000 Palestinians (the massacre resumed December 1).

The rising tide of hatred reflects the Biden Administration’s full-throated percent support to Israel’s relentless war on Gaza, and the Palestinian people.

The three college students were shot in broad delight. Although it was clearly a hate crime, the police simply said an investigation for motivation is underway.

The families identified the youth as Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed.

The youth were speaking Arabic and two of them were wearing a keffiyeh, Palestinian scarf, when attacked. Two were shot in the torso and one in the “lower extremities.”

The shooter, a man, without speaking, discharged at least four rounds from the pistol. He was later captured and pleaded “not guilty.” The shooter is a 48-year-old white man, Jason Eaton.

According to local media reports the students were walking on the street while visiting the home of one of their families in Burlington for the Thanksgiving holiday when they were attacked.

Attended the Ramallah Friends School

All three are graduates of the Ramallah Friends School, a private Quaker secondary school in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the families said. All are 20 years old. Two are US. citizens and the third is a legal resident.

Hisham Awartani was identified as Palestinian-Irish American. He is a student at Brown University and described “as a math genius.”

Awartani’s great-uncle Marwan Awartani, a former Palestinian education minister, told The New York Times that “a bullet had struck Hisham’s spinal cord, and he lost feeling in the lower part of his body.”

He is “expected to survive his injuries,” Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University said in a statement.

”There are not enough words to express the deep anguish I feel for Hisham, his parents and family members, and his friends. I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence – this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world – will leave many in our community deeply shaken.”

Kinnan Abdalhamid is currently a student at Haverford College. In a statement from the college, it “condemns all acts of hatred.”

Tahseen Ahmed is a student at Trinity College in Connecticut. He was shot in the chest.

”He is in stable condition at an area hospital, and he is aware this message is being released,” Trinity College said in a statement. “At this moment, please keep Tahseen and his friends in your heart.”

The Shooter

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Eaton while conducting a search of the shooting area in Burlington.

Police chief Jon Murad said in a statement: “In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime.”

”And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven,” Murad added. “The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now. But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”

As reported by Al Jazeera, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee released a statement saying that there is “reason to believe this shooting occurred because the victims are Arab.”

The Institute for Middle East Understanding posted a statement on X that the institute said was from the victims’ families.

”We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children,” the statement said. “We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice.”

In response to the shooting, U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged people to “unequivocally denounce the startling rise of anti-Arab hate and Islamophobia in America.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, also denounced the shooting. “It is shocking and deeply upsetting that three young Palestinians were shot here in Burlington, VT [Vermont]. Hate has no place here, or anywhere.”

Sanders to this point, however, refuses to support a permanent ceasefire although he calls for “conditioning” further U.S. aid to Israel on adherence to international law.

Solidarity Actions

The coalition of Ivy League students for Palestine asked for students across Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth College, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale to “wear their keffiyehs and the colors of the Palestinian flag in solidarity. In the face of hatred, we will not stand down.”

Hundreds gathered outside Burlington city hall Sunday evening, November 26, to rally for the shooting victims.

A member of UVM Students for Justice in Palestine who did not share a name: “This attack is the direct result of the horrific tide of dehumanizing rhetoric against us. This attack is the direct result of the refusal of our institutions to protect us from it.”

Wafic Faour with Vermonters for Justice in Palestine: “Today, I received so many calls from my family members to ask me, ‘How am I? Is that possible? In Vermont?’ Yes, it is possible.”

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine helped organize the rally Sunday.

Wafic Faour, who lives in Richmond and advocates with the organization, said the conversation surrounding the shooting in Burlington needs to look at the federal influence that is fueling hate in these communities.

”We see it on the federal level by supporting Israel unconditionally with bombs that caused the killing of thousands of Palestinians, almost 6,000 children among them,” Faour said.

”Words are very important. We should say, what happened to those people, civilian people in Gaza, it was a slaughter. It was genocide. You know, everybody tries to swerve away from saying the truth, it is the hate crime.”

He added: “The situation here in Vermont and Burlington have been fueled for a long time in our government official and institutions. Murad himself, the chief of police of Burlington, he threatened us and many members of my community of arrest just on Friday evening, when we are peacefully and silently standing on a Christmas tree lighting and carrying photos of Palestinian children getting killed at the hands of the Israeli by American weapons.”

Faour said hate and harassment isn’t new but has been building for years, and is happening across the country.

Alex Fischer with Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the country, spoke. The Vermont and New Hampshire chapter has over 100 members.

Fischer grew up in a Zionist Jewish community. They say as they grew older and learned more about the occupation of Palestine, they stepped away from Judaism. Fischer found their way back through organizing against Zionism.

”One of the major tenets of Judaism, tikkun olam, a healed and just world is actually in accordance with anti-Zionism, with the idea that we can exist, and that we must exist, in coordination, you know, and peace with others and not using Judaism as an excuse for occupation violence,” Fischer said.

”Where the attention is on us and our safety, (we) use that moment to focus on Palestinians and really share that I’m not interested in safety for myself unless there is safety for my Palestinian and Arab family and friends.” (Reported from Vermont Public)

Hisham Awartani issued a text message that was read on his behalf at the Monday night vigil held for him at the Providence, Rhode Island, school campus on November 27.

”It’s important to recognize that this is part of a larger story. This hideous crime did not happen in a vacuum,” Awartani, a U.S. citizen who was raised in the West Bank, wrote in the text message. “As much as I appreciate every single one of you here today, I am one casualty in this much wider conflict.”

The message was read at the vigil by a Brown University professor of Palestinian studies.

Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, told ABC News that her son, who is studying mathematics and archaeology, remains hospitalized with a bullet lodged in his spine, and that doctors are unsure if he will be able to walk again.

”Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life here would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army. The soldier who shot me would go home and never be convicted,” Awartani wrote in the message.

”I understand that the pain is so much more real and immediate because many of you know me, but any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine.”

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