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Michael O’BrienDecember 01, 2023
In this Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, photo provided by family attorney Abed Ayoub, three college students, from the left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Hisham Awartani, stand together for a photograph. (Rich Price via AP, File)  

While the violence in the Gaza Strip came to a much-needed pause after a ceasefire between the Israeli government and Hamas was reached, allowing an exchange of hostages and prisoners, violent acts sparked by the conflict in the Holy Land continue to occur in the United States.

On Nov. 25 in Burlington, Vt., three Palestinian college students were approached by 48-year-old Jason Eaton who, without speaking a word, allegedly fired at least four rounds at Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad.

Mr. Awartani and the two other shooting victims had been friends since first grade at Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank. Head of School Rania Ma’ayeh called them “remarkable, distinguished students.”

The group was visiting Mr. Awartani’s family in Vermont for a Thanksgiving celebration.

While Mr. Abdalhamid was released from a local Burlington hospital on Nov. 27, Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Awartani remain in the hospital for treatment, and doctors believe Mr. Awartani, who was shot near the spine, may never walk again.

Although a motive for the shooting has not been confirmed yet, there has been speculation that Mr. Eaton could be charged with a hate crime. Two of the young men were wearing keffiyehs, traditional scarves that have become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. 

There has been speculation that Mr. Eaton could be charged with a hate crime. Two of the young men were wearing keffiyehs, traditional scarves that have become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. 

While all three men, aged 20, survived, the attack follows the brutal stabbing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, who was killed in the suburbs of Chicago allegedly by his landlord, a parishioner of a local Catholic parish. The Burlington shooting also comes on the heels of the mass killings that left 18 people dead last month in Lewiston, Me., another small city in the northeast. 

Msgr. John McDermott, the administrator of the Diocese of Burlington, released a statement following the attack. “We were shocked and saddened by the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington,” he said. “We condemn all acts of violence and pray for the full recovery of the three young men who were attacked, as well as for their loved ones. As Catholics, we are called by Christ to reject hatred and to become peacemakers in our cities, state and in our world.”

Mr. Awartani is studying mathematics and archaeology at Brown University; Mr. Abdalhamid is a pre-med student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Mr. Ali Ahmad is studying mathematics and IT at Trinity College in Connecticut. Mr. Awartani and Mr. Abdalhamid are U.S. citizens, while Mr. Ali Ahmad is studying on a student visa, Ms. Ma’ayeh said.

“They are all just very, very close friends,” said Mr. Abdalhamid’s uncle, Radi Tamimi, at a news conference Monday in Burlington. His nephew grew up in the West Bank, and Mr. Tamini said, “we always thought that that could be more of a risk in terms of his safety and sending him here would be a right decision.”

“My husband is so bitter,” Ms. Price, the mother of shooting victim Hisham Awartani told NPR on Monday. “He thought my son would be safe in Burlington.”

Elizabeth Price, Mr. Awartani’s mother, said she and her husband decided after the Israel-Hamas war began in October that their son should stay in the United States rather than return home for the holidays. Now her son is unlikely to ever walk again, she said.

“My husband is so bitter,” Ms. Price told NPR on Monday. “He thought my son would be safe in Burlington.”

Although the attack did not occur at one of the victim’s universities, the incident in Burlington follows a number of confrontations on campuses across the country because of the war in Gaza. On Oct. 31, the F.B.I. made an arrest at Cornell University in response to death threats directed at Jewish students on campus. Similar threats were made at the University of Texas at Austin during an event on Palestinian history earlier this month, where a man claimed “next week I’m in Israel, we’re killing…Arabs.”

The Brown Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization at Brown University, where Mr. Awartani is a junior, published a statement on social media from Mr. Awartani: “It’s important to recognize that this is part of the larger story,” he said. “This hideous crime did not happen in a vacuum. As much as I love and appreciate every single one of you here today, I am but one casualty in this much wider conflict.”

Brown held a vigil on Nov. 27 for Mr. Awartani and his companions’ recovery, but as has occurred at other Ivy League institutions, the vigil seemed to only raise on-campus tensions. Brown President Christina Paxson was forced to cut her remarks short as protesters chanted “Brown divest.” Student activists at Brown have pointed out that portions of the university’s endowment are indirectly invested in arms manufacturers that have provided weapons used in the attacks on Gaza.

Haverford’s president Wendy Raymond called the shooting “a terrifying and hateful incident at a time of global conflict and vulnerability.”

The Rev. Marcus Halley, the chaplain at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where Mr. Ali Ahmad is a sophomore, released a statement: “I know from speaking with many of you—students, faculty, and staff—that it has been difficult to hold the complex range of emotions that witnessing or experiencing this conflict raises. This has been made more difficult by the rising tide of hate, antisemitism, anti-Arab prejudice, and Islamophobia on the internet and social media.”

Haverford College, Mr. Abdalhamid’s school, held a vigil in the Quaker tradition on Nov. 28 for his recovery. Haverford’s president Wendy Raymond called the shooting “a terrifying and hateful incident at a time of global conflict and vulnerability.”

“I reach out today with my heart and soul full of care, love, and support for our beloved Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students,” she said. “I reach out with an equally full heart to our Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab faculty, staff, alums, and family members.”

With reporting from The Associated Press

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