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Vermont communities respond to shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent

People gather outside in the dark in coats with candles, "End Hate" and "Free Palestine" posters and a Palestine flag.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Hundreds of people gathered at a rally in Burlington on Sunday in response to the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent.

Community members are processing the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent who were visiting Burlington for Thanksgiving.

One received serious injuries, and according to a family member, all remain in the ICU.

Police have arrested the alleged shooter, a 48-year-old white man named Jason J. Eaton. He pleaded not guilty to three charges of attempted second degree murder on Monday.

The families of the victims and civil rights advocates are asking authorities to treat the incident as a hate crime. Court records show that at the time of the shooting, two of the three students were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian scarf, and that they were speaking English and Arabic.

Updates from Vermont Public: Jason J. Eaton pleads not guilty to shooting three students of Palestinian descent visiting Burlington, Vermont

On today’s Vermont Edition, local advocates and community members respond to the shooting of Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad.

Rally in Burlington Sunday

Hundreds gathered in Burlington outside of city hall Sunday evening to rally for the shooting victims. Here are some their voices:

A member of UVM Students for Justice in Palestine who did not share a name: “This attack is the direct result of the horrific tide of dehumanizing rhetoric against us. This attack is the direct result of the refusal of our institutions to protect us from it.”

A photo of a group of people, with a sign in black and white reading "within our lifetimes Palestine will be free"
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Several hundred people attended a rally in Burlington Sunday evening following the news that three men of Palestinian descent were shot and injured on Saturday.

Alex from the Party for Socialism and Liberation: “We must demand better from our elected officials. We must condemn bigotry wherever we see it from Gaza to Burlington, our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters deserve to feel safe. We cannot allow hate to win.”

Wafic Faour with Vermonters for Justice in Palestine: “Today, I received so many calls from my family members to ask me, ‘How am I? Is that possible? In Vermont?’ Yes, it is possible.”

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine helped organize the rally Sunday for the three men of Palestinian descent shot in Burlington over the weekend.

Wafic Faour, who lives in Richmond and advocates with the organization, said the conversation surrounding the shooting in Burlington needs to look at the federal influence that is fueling hate in these communities.

“We see it on the federal level by supporting Israel unconditionally with bombs that caused the killing of thousands of Palestinians, almost 6,000 children among them,” Faour said. “Words are very important. We should say, what happened to those people, civilian people in Gaza, it was a slaughter. It was genocide. You know, everybody tries to swerve away from saying the truth, it is the hate crime.”

He added: “The situation here in Vermont and Burlington have been fueled for a long time in our government official and institutions. Murad himself, the chief of police of Burlington, he threatened us and many members of my community of arrest just on Friday evening, when we are peacefully and silently standing on a Christmas tree lighting and carrying photos of Palestinian children get killed at the hands of the Israeli by American weapons.”

A man in a hat, coat and scarf stands outside at night holding a microphone. In the background, a Palestine flag.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Wafic Faour speaks at a rally Sunday in response to a shooting of three men of Palestinian descent.

Faour said hate and harassment isn’t something new, but that it has been building for years, and is happening across the country.

“The harassment of my community, it didn't happen overnight. You'll have to understand, the media is 24 hours talking about the war between Israel and Hamas, marginalizing the Palestinian community, of one group when the slaughter for over 15,000 people took place against the whole Palestinian people,” he said. “We have fear of this kind of language will continue, and we wouldn't call things by its name. It is a massacre. It is the genocide against the Palestinian people. It is ethnic cleansing, and it didn't happen in Oct. 7, this is over 75 years old. And there is now the time for the American people to understand what's happening over there.”

Faour said there are upcoming events with Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, including a rally in Montpelier on Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Statehouse.

A photo of many people in a street, several of them carrying the Palestinian flag.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Rallygoers carry the Palestinian flag in front of Burlington City Hall on Sunday, Nov. 26.

Jewish Voice for Peace

Alex Fischer is with Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest anti-Zionist organization in the world. The Vermont and New Hampshire chapter has over 100 members.

Fischer grew up in a Zionist Jewish community. They say as they grew older and learned more about the occupation of Palestine, they stepped away from Judaism. Fischer found their way back through organizing against Zionism.

“One of the major tenets of Judaism, tikkun olam, a healed and just world is actually in accordance with anti-Zionism, with the idea that we can exist, and that we must exist, in coordination, you know, and peace with others and not using Judaism as an excuse for occupation violence,” Fischer said.

They said they’re devastated about the hate, both locally and globally.

“This is, I think, echoing what Wafic Faour shared, it is horrific, but it's not unsurprising,” Fischer said. “So for me, there is a large connection to, if we are at war globally against Palestinians, if we are complicit as a country in the genocide of Palestinians, that is going to show up on our home soil, that is going to show up in our local communities in attacks and violence against our Palestinian community here. And so for me there is just a devastation around the reality of the anti-Palestinian climate, the acts of unmitigated aid to Israel. And the ways that often, Jewish safety is used as an excuse for these sorts of horrific attacks both on a local and global level.”

A photo of a blackboard reading "love your neighbor" with a heart along a sidewalk
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
Momo's Market, which is close to the location of Burlington's Saturday shooting, shares a message on Monday, Nov. 27.

Fischer also said that, the response to the shooting in Burlington has largely been focused on what happened after — not what actions are being taken to prevent violence.

“We are continuing to organize to pressure our representatives and our senators to not only call for a cease-fire, but to take action by signing resolutions,” they said. “We, you know, are proud of their bravery, especially our Jewish delegates, to put themselves on the line. And also what is needed is action by way of signing on to resolutions or introducing bills to actually create that change. So we're still putting that pressure on. … In short, what we're doing is uplifting and supporting the voices of our Palestinian community. And if that, you know, for me, that means using the privilege of being a Jewish American right now. Where the attention is on us and our safety to, to use that moment to focus on Palestinians and really share that I'm not interested in safety for myself unless there is safety for my Palestinian and Arab family and friends.”

More from Vermont Public: Why Vermont's U.S. Rep. Becca Balint is now calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war

The Jewish Voice for Peace, with the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, will also be at the Statehouse on Saturday, Dec. 2.

And there will be a vigil in Brattleboro tonight at 5 p.m. in response to the Burlington shooting.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman

Lt. Gov. Zuckerman spoke at the Burlington rally Sunday evening, one of the only politicians to do so.

“I just felt it was really important to be there in solidarity with the community that was feeling such trauma and grief,” Zuckerman told Vermont Edition Monday. “And also at that time, nobody knew yet that the, the person had been apprehended. And, and so many in the community were still feeling tremendous fear that there was someone out there who very likely had a — I would argue — a hate-filled motivation to cause this harm and might yet cause further harm. So I was there to stand in solidarity with them and their grief, pain and fear.”

A photo of a person walking by with black and white signs
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Several hundred people gathered in Burlington on Sunday to rally in response to the shooting of three young men of Palestinian descent.

He said state and local officials need to try and not spread hate or othering. Zuckerman said right now, the focus needs to be on supporting the families impacted by this weekend's shooting.

“This is a real awakening, or another awakening, for many Vermonters that, that we're not free from hate here in our amazing little state,” he said. “And we may have less than other places, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And I know there are many people in Vermont, from a range of histories and backgrounds who, who feel elements of oppression and hate regularly.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders calls for a two-state solution

Last week, Vermont’s U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders shared a guest opinion essay in the New York Times calling for a two-state solution, writing: “Needless to say, I do not have all of the answers to this never-ending tragedy. But for those of us who believe in peace and justice, it is imperative that we do our best to provide Israelis and Palestinians with a thoughtful response that maps out a realistic path to addressing the reality we face today.”

In a phone interview with Vermont Edition's Mikaela Lefrak, Sanders spoke about his essay, the current humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas, and the shooting in Burlington.

“The idea that three young men walking down the street get shot, perhaps because of no other reason than they are Palestinian, is unspeakable,” Sanders said. ”But I gotta tell you, this is not just a local phenomena, this is happening all over the country.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders discusses the state's flood response at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday.
Mike Dougherty
Vermont Public File
Sen. Bernie Sanders is seen in this July 12, 2023 file photo discussing Vermont's flood response at a press conference in Berlin.

In his essay, Sanders wrote about the “blank check” approach, regarding U.S. financial support of Israel. This topic has been increasingly discussed throughout the past six weeks of conflict.

Sanders told Vermont Edition that the ongoing conversation is difficult, and has been for many years, but this approach to funding should be over.

“The president has requested, as you know, some $14 billion for Israel,” Sanders said. “And my view is that money has got to be conditioned. And that means that if we give Israel money, we have to make sure that there is a change in our military policy. So they are not killing defenseless civilians. There has to be pauses in bombing. And I think it's a very good step right now that we're in the midst of a pause, which has not only freed some of the hospitals, but also has finally allowed the massive amounts of humanitarian aid, the food, water, fuel, and medical supplies that the community desperately needs.”

More from NPR: Israel and Hamas agree to a 2-day extension of the truce in Gaza

“When you have 12,000 people who have been killed, and many more have been wounded, and the vast majority of them are women and children, this I think should be of concern to every American. Israel has the right to defend itself. But you cannot be killing thousands of children in the process. There has to be a change in military tactics,” Sanders said.

He did call for a pause in the bombing in Congress, but did not join in calls for a cease-fire.

Sanders said calling for a cease-fire would be difficult, as it seems highly unlikely Hamas would agree. But he added that another option would be to look at the unconditional funding for Israel.

NPR speaks with the mother of one of the students

Hisham Awartani, a Brown University student, was one of the three young men targeted in the Burlington shooting over the weekend. He sustained serious injuries and is being treated at UVM Medical Center.

NPR spoke with Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, who is currently in Ramallah, in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

“Hisham is an incredibly strong young man," Price said. "He obviously is saddened by the fact that his friends were also hurt. But he's been really buoyed up by their presence and the presence of my mother and my brother.”

A photo of two men, one speaking at a podium, the other looking on.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Radi Tamimi, left, and Rich Price are the uncles of two of the three college students of Palestinian descent who were injured in a Burlington shooting over the weekend. They spoke at a press conference on Monday.

Price said Awartani and his friends were coming home from a birthday party for her 8-year-old nephews when they were shot.

“Three young men had gone and played with the kids,” she said. “And they were walking around the block as they often do. They love to walk and talk. And out of nowhere, their lives were changed.”

More from NPR: Mother of Palestinian student shot in Vermont thought he would be safer in U.S.

Price said Awartani is stable, but is dealing with a bullet that went through his clavicle and embedded itself in his spinal cord. Due to the placement of the injury, there are no plans to operate currently. Awartani cannot move his legs now.

“Today, Hisham, I spoke with him, and it's beginning to sink in the enormity of the challenges in front of him. He's tired, he's having a hard time sleeping because of the pain and, you know, he, he's confronting a life of disability,” Price said. “So I think the adrenaline has left his body and he is now confronting the, the almost potentially irreversible change to his life, and what it means for his future.”

Price said her husband had not wanted Awartani to come to Ramallah for the holidays because of the ongoing conflict.

“The last month or last six weeks have been at a time of great suffering in Palestine, and we have suffered, we have grieved the enormity of the loss of the Palestinian people,” she said. "We all have friends and family who have lost someone. And my husband didn't want him to come back for Christmas because he thought America would be safe, and safer than Palestine.”

Price and her husband are planning to travel to Burlington today to care for Awartani and his friends.

Reporting contributed by NPR's Brian Mann in Israel and the Israeli Occupied West Bank.

A photo of people including one person carrying a flag pole with both the American and Palestinian flags
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Local organizers including Vermonters for Justice in Palestine are planning another rally in Montpelier in front of the Statehouse on Saturday, Dec. 2.

Broadcast at noon Monday, Nov. 27, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m. 

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
Tedra worked on Vermont Edition as a producer and editor from 2022 to 2024.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.