By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Three Palestinian students, friends since they were in elementary school in the occupied West Bank now attending different U.S. colleges, were catching up during their Thanksgiving break in Burlington, Vermont. As they were walking to dinner at the home of one of their grandmothers, shots rang out. A man left his porch and fired on them, hitting all three. They all survived the shooting, but one of them may never walk again. Hisham Awartani attends Brown University, Kinnan Abdalhamid, Haverford College, and Tahseen Ahmad, Trinity College. It isn’t clear yet why the shooter, who is in custody, attacked the three, but, as Kinnan’s mother, Tamara Tamimi, said on the PBS Newshour this week, “Two of the three of them were wearing the traditional keffiyeh, and if he [the shooter] was close enough to be within earshot, they were also speaking a mix of Arabic and English as they are tend to do…many Palestinians and other supporters are wearing the keffiyeh, to recognize and be in solidarity with those who are suffering in Gaza.”
The accused shooter, Jason J. Eaton, a 48-year-old white man, has been jailed and charged with three counts of 2nd-degree attempted murder. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said the FBI is investigating this as a hate crime.
“This is a hate crime, and we should call it as is,” Wafic Faour, a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon and a member of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “The actions of the Biden administration and Secretary of State Blinken and the defense secretary, they’re supporting Israel unconditionally…if you talk about Palestinian rights, you’re going to be called ‘terrorist.’ If you wear a keffiyeh like this, you’re going to be called a ‘terrorist.’ This is what brought this crime.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently released data showing an “unprecedented surge in bigotry” after receiving 1,283 reports of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in the four weeks following Hamas’ October 7th attack on Israel. In one heinous incident, six-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al Fayoume was murdered, stabbed 26 times after he and his mother were attacked by their landlord. The 32-year-old mother, Hanaan Shain, said the landlord yelled “you Muslims must die” as he attacked. News accounts of assaults, from verbal to physical, are coming in daily as people perceived to be Palestinian, Arab or Muslim are targeted. Anti-semitic attacks are also multiplying.
The three victims in Vermont – Hisham, Kinnan and Tahseen – two of whom are U.S. citizens – attended the Ramallah Friends School together before college. Joyce Ajlouny is the former director of the Ramallah Friends School and now the general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee. The Palestinian American leader described the school, speaking on Democracy Now!:
“The Ramallah Friends School was established in 1869 by Quaker missionaries. It’s a phenomenal place. I’m a graduate of the school myself…the Quaker values and the foundations of peace and nonviolence and teaching tolerance and service and integrity, conflict resolution, emphasizing dialogue and inquiry. That is what the school is about.”
Even while suffering a spinal injury from the gunshot wound that landed him in the Intensive Care Unit, Hisham Awartani was able to issue a statement that was shared widely. He wrote,
“It’s important to realize that this is part of the larger story…I am but one casualty in the much wider conflict. Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army. The soldier who would’ve shot me would go home and never be convicted. 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. This is why when you send your wishes and light your candles for me today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, but rather as a proud member of a people being oppressed.”
Of Vermont’s three-member Congressional delegation, Representative Becca Balint is the first Jewish Congressmember of to demand a ceasefire, with Senator Peter Welch joining in that call. Senator Bernie Sanders has put forth a resolution that would condition any aid to Israel on an end to the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, settler violence in the West Bank, and more.
As we write this, a fragile truce has been extended in Gaza, by just one day. The U.S. government, as a principal sponsor of Israel’s military, has the power to impose a ceasefire, one that is far overdue as the violence in Israel/Palestine bleeds onto U.S. streets.