Three Palestinian students shot in alleged hate crime in Vermont

The shooting comes amid rising concerns over a surge in Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks in the US

Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ahmed and Kinnan Abdalhamid were shot on Saturday night on their way to a family dinner in Vermont. Institute for Middle East Understanding / AFP
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Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali and Kenan Abdulhamid, are 20 year-old Palestinian high school friends and students at prestigious US universities.

All three were shot on Saturday night on their way to a family dinner in Burlington, Vermont, in a suspected hate crime.

They were taken to a nearby hospital where they are receiving treatment. All three are expected to survive.

Police are investigating the incident, according to local media, and no suspect has been apprehended.

I joke about the US being more dangerous than being in Palestine - but I never expected that my cousin would get shot here
Basil Awartani, Hisham's cousin

“We already feel unsafe. When something like this happens, it just amplifies it,” Basil Awartani, Hisham's cousin, told The National.

“I joke about the US being more dangerous than being in Palestine but I never expected that my cousin would get shot here."

In a statement, the Friends school in Ramallah, where the three students attended, said that they were "deeply distressed" by the incident.

"While we are relieved to know that they are alive, we remain uncertain about their condition and hold them in the light," the school said in a statement on Sunday.

"We extend our thoughts and prayers to them and their families for a full recovery, especially considering the severity of injuries," according to the statement.

The shooting comes amid rising concerns over Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment in the US, as Israel's war on Gaza, which began more than seven weeks ago, continues.

Last month Wadea Al Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy, was stabbed to death in his home in Chicago, Illinois, and his mother was critically injured.

They were allegedly attacked by their landlord because they were Muslim and Palestinian.

Advocacy groups say Islamophobic and anti-Semitic incidents, including violent assaults and online harassment have been on the rise in the US since the war on Gaza erupted.

About 15,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israeli strikes by air, land and sea, and much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble.

A humanitarian crisis is worsening and much-needed aid is trickling in across the Egyptian border.

More than 200 Palestinians, including 54 children, have been killed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank amid a surge in violence there since October 7, according to UN figures.

Israel says it wants to eradicate Hamas after an attack from the group killed about 1,200 people on October 7.

In response to rising concerns over increased attacks in the US, the White House several weeks ago announced a national strategy to combat Islamophobia.

“It's shocking and it feels like there is no end in sight to what we're facing here,” said Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee, told The National.

“The most disturbing part is these students' families were probably worried about them going back to Palestine and the danger over there, and then they get injured over here.

“For Palestinian students and for Palestinians, where is there a safe place?”

Mr Ayoub said his organisation received violent threats on Thursday and decided to close their offices in Washington until further notice.

Mr Awartani says the three students had been visiting Hisham's grandmother, who lives in Burlington, for the Thanksgiving holiday. He says the entire family has been left in shock.

He said Hisham studies maths at Brown university in Rhode Island and likes history and languages.

“Hisham is brilliant, extremely smart – the smartest guy in our family,” Mr Awartani says.

“He is amazing and very sweet, and he doesn't deserve to get shot.”

Updated: November 27, 2023, 1:58 PM