Three Palestinian students shot in Vermont

Published November 27, 2023
This undated handout photo provided by the Institute for Middle East Understanding shows Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid, who were shot on their way to a family dinner.  —  Institute for Middle East Understanding via AFP
This undated handout photo provided by the Institute for Middle East Understanding shows Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali, and Kenan Abdulhamid, who were shot on their way to a family dinner. — Institute for Middle East Understanding via AFP

WASHINGTON: Three Palestinian students were shot in Burlington, Vermont, over the weekend in an apparent hate crime, but the local police have not yet ascribed a motive for the attack.

“Burlington Police are investigating after they say three people were shot on North Prospect Street, around 6:25pm [local time] on Saturday,” Burlington’s Channel Three reported.

In a tweet posted on her site early on Sunday, Arab journalist Mariam Barghouti reported: “Two Palestinian students — Hisham Awartani and Kenan Abdelhamid — have been shot in Vermont in the chest and in the back.”

She added, “No declaration of a hate crime by police yet. The two men are in surgery still. They’re undergraduate students at Brown University and Haverford.”

Another victim identified as Tahseen Ahmed.

In another tweet, Yousef Munayyer, a PhD student, wrote: “Channel Three has confirmed that all three are young men of Palestinian descent.”

Palestinian foreign ministry condemns shooting

The local police, however, confirmed the shooting took place in downtown Burlington and that two men were found injured on the scene, with another man found injured a short distance away. The victims were transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center, where they’re being treated for non-fatal wounds.

Police haven’t identified a shooter, and nobody is in custody. Portions of North Prospect St. between Loomis Street and Brookes Avenue were closed to the public during the investigation.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” said Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad in a statement. “I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”

Mr Murad said the victims were safe and receiving medical care, and the police were now focusing on “identifying, locating, and apprehending the suspect.”

Burlington Police said the investigation was still in its earliest stages, and they could not provide more details.

The students had been speaking Arabic and wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh, the Palestinian foreign ministry said on Sunday, calling on US authorities to hold those responsible to account, according to Reuters.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a US-based advocacy organisation, called on state and federal law enforcement to investigate the shooting as a hate crime in a statement on Sunday.

“The surge in anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment we are experiencing is unprecedented, and this is another example of that hate turning violent,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said.

Basil Awartani posted on X that his cousin Hisham is one of the shooting victims and alleged the attack was a hate crime.

For Muslim Americans, a spike in hate incidents feels reminiscent of post-9/11 Islamophobia. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reported 1,283 bias incidents from across the United States from Oct 7 to early November, a 216 per cent jump compared to 2022. Bias incidents ranged from verbal harassment to physical violence.

The Anti-Defamation League reported a nearly 400pc increase in anti-semitic incidents compared to 2022. And the New York Police Department reported a 214pc increase in reported hate crimes against Jews in October.

On Oct 15, Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6, was fatally stabbed at his Illinois home by the landlord, Joseph Czuba, in what police said was an anti-Muslim hate crime.

Last week, a man reportedly selling Muslim goods outside a mosque in Rhode Island’s capital city, Providence, was shot and wounded.

Palestinian activists in the US demanded protection from the police. “The hate crimes against Palestinians must stop. Palestinians everywhere need protection,” said X post.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National is offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2023

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