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‘Granny, I’ve Been Shot,’ Said Palestinian Student Targeted in Vermont

After being ambushed and shot in the spine on a US street at the weekend, Hisham Awartani called police. Then the Palestinian-American student phoned his British-born grandmother.

“Granny, I’ve been shot,” the 20-year-old said, his uncle told the BBC.

Mr Awartani was targeted on Saturday in Burlington, Vermont, along with two fellow Palestinian-American students.

He and the other victims – Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Aliahmad – are expected to survive.

All three are recovering from their injuries in an intensive care unit at hospital.

But for Mr Awartani, who was most critically injured, family members fear he may not walk again. His road to recovery will be long either way, his uncle said.

“The bullet is lodged in his T2 vertebra against his spine,” Rich Price said.

The uncle said the incident had left him and other relatives of the victims with a sense of shame, as family members had encouraged the young men to pursue university education in the US for stability and safety.

“Never could we have imagined that they would come here to study and something like this could happen to them,” Mr Price said.

Mr Awartani is in his third year of studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

He and his friends were attacked after attending the birthday party of Mr Price’s twin eight-year-old sons at a local bowling alley.

The three 20-year-olds are childhood best friends who attended the Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-run private non-profit in the West Bank.

They were in Burlington visiting relatives for US Thanksgiving, and were staying with Mr Awartani’s grandmother, Marian Price, who is originally from Surbiton, Surrey. They were gunned down round the corner from her home.

“Within five minutes of leaving the house, a man stepped out of the darkness, pulled a gun on them and shot four times,” said Mr Price.

Two of them were shot in the chest, he said, and a third was shot in the lower part of his body. Mr Awartani was also shot in the hand, his uncle said.

Police have arrested a suspect, 48-year-old Jason Eaton, who lives near Mr Awartani’s relatives, in a neighbourhood close to the University of Vermont.

When he opened his front door to find federal agents who were searching for him, he told them he had been expecting them, officials said

Mr Eaton appeared in court on Monday and pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree attempted murder. He is being held without bail.

Police have not identified a possible motive, but are investigating whether a hate crime was committed.

Relatives believe the young men were deliberately targeted because of their Palestinian background. They were speaking a mix of English and Arabic at the time they were shot, and two were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves.

The incident comes as the US deals with a surge in Islamophobia and antisemitism since the start of the Israel-Gaza war.

Mr Price said the attack is especially heart-breaking given the sense of safety the family previously felt in Burlington, a city of around 45,000 people.

“To have something like this happen,” Mr Price said, “which in our view is most likely driven by hate, it is devastating for us.”

The uncle said that despite his nephew’s serious injury, he had shown strength and even a sense of humour while recovering in intensive care.

“I do know that he is incredibly grateful that so many people are thinking about him,” he added.

Mr Price said his family had been heartened by the support the three young men have received, not just from the US but across the globe.

At a vigil held in his honour on Monday night at Brown University’s campus, a professor read out a statement from Mr Awartani describing himself as “one casualty in a much wider conflict”, NBC News reported.

But the vigil was disrupted by hundreds of pro-Palestinian students who chanted “shame on you” at the university president and demanded the school divest its endowment from companies profiting from the war.

US President Joe Biden has denounced the attack.

“While we are waiting for more facts, we know this: there is absolutely no place for violence or hate in America. Period,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

Source : BBC