A walk around the block ends in tragedy
Awartani, Abdalhamid and Ahmad, all 20 years old, had just come back to Awartani’s grandmother’s house from a bowling alley when they decided to take a walk around the block. The three friends were in Burlington to celebrate Thanksgiving at the house of Awartini’s grandmother.
This was a walk the three almost life-long friends had done more than once. Just the day before the shooting, they’d walked the same path along the street Awartani’s grandmother’s house is on. Abdalhamid was wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, a scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.
But on Nov. 25, when they walked their usual path, they saw a man standing across the road come down the porch of a home, pull out a pistol and shoot at them. Awartani and Abdalhamid believe the man may have seen them before and was possibly waiting for them that day.
“I don’t know why he’d have a loaded pistol and stand on the porch,” Abdalhamid said.
Awartani and Ahmad were wearing keffiyehs when they were shot, and all three of them were speaking Arabic with occasional English words woven in.
The man pointed the pistol at Ahmad first, then Awartani, he said.
“Tahseen was screaming. He was shot first,” Abdalhamid said. “Hisham didn’t make a sound. As soon as Tahseen started screaming, I was running.”
Jason Eaton, 48, was arrested two days later in connection with the shooting. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree attempted murder. Police have not yet revealed a motive for the shooting, saying the investigation ongoing.
The agencies handling the investigation — FBI, ATF and police — have not responded to NBC News’ requests for an update.
There’s not a doubt in Abdalhamid and Awartani’s minds that all three of them were shot because they are Palestinian, they said. They believe what happened to them was a hate crime.
“I don’t think too much about if there’s gonna be hate crime charges,” Awartani said. “I just care that, like, justice is served. And to me, that is a part of it. But I know that it is a hate crime.”
The shooting is part of a ‘larger systematic issue’
Abdalhamid warns against pinning the climate of hate on one person.
“I think there’s been a lot of attempts for us to fully only demonize the guy, but we realize this is part of a larger systematic issue,” Abdalhamid said.
“But the truth is he’s a symptom of a larger issue. And the root cause is, again, like I said, systematic dehumanization.”
Abdalhamid said it’s this systematic dehumanization of Palestinians that bred the environment of hate, which he alleges is the reason Eaton shot them.
“It’s something that, you know, has always been the case, like, in, western discourse through the media. Like, the Palestinian is assumed by default to be terrorist,” Awartani said. “And when he saw us it was like — he just connected the dots.”
Abdalhamid and Awartani have some hope that things in Gaza and the West Bank will get better.
“As Palestinians, we’re hopeful, but we’re not optimistic. Because, I mean, there’s never been room for optimism for us because it’s just been the same as it was all this time,” Awartani said.