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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Raised in the West Bank, Shot in Vermont

WorldMiddle EastRaised in the West Bank, Shot in Vermont


An ocean away, Elizabeth Price, Hisham’s mother, was woken up by a call from her brother in Burlington. He was at a hospital, he told her. Hisham and his friends had been shot. Elizabeth struggled to process what he was saying. Shock came first, then guilt: The children had been visiting her mother’s house. She immediately rang Tamara. “Shot where, shot how?” Tamara screamed into the phone. Her mind raced. “Is Kinnan OK? Is he dead? Is he dead?”

The families hurried to reach Vermont. Elizabeth, her husband and Tamara headed out first; Tahseen’s mother, who had to sort out visa logistics, would join them a week later. Although Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, is an hour’s drive from Ramallah, Hisham’s father was not allowed to access it with his Palestinian ID. The parents followed the route that most Palestinians take: They drove through roads where settlers had been throwing stones at passing cars, crossed a bridge at the Jordanian border that Israel controlled and finally passed through multiple security checkpoints at the international airport near Amman. They could cross the border only in the narrow window Israel allowed, which happened to be long before their scheduled flight, so they waited 12 hours in Amman, in fear and disbelief.

At the I.C.U., the three friends compared their wounds. Kinnan was struck in the gluteal muscles, but the hospital staff allowed him to stay in the unit with his friends, who suffered more severe injuries. A bullet ripped into Tahseen’s chest above his right lung, and his fall cracked his ribs. Hisham could no longer feel his legs. “Hey, guys, did we just get shot?” Tahseen asked.

Groggy with shock and painkillers, they laughed and started to joke: “Brilliant, that this happened in Vermont.” “It was probably the only crime Burlington has seen all year.” They didn’t say much about the shooter. They could guess why they were targeted. For the past two months, they had seen Palestinians being killed in droves, with the support of the United States — and no one seemed to care. Someone doesn’t randomly decide to shoot someone, the friends agreed.

Within hours, the police came to talk to them. Hate crimes, which are predicated on the state of mind of the aggressor, are challenging to prove in court. This case was even more tricky: The shooter said nothing out loud before, during or after the shooting, and the man the police had charged in the attack, Jason Eaton, was a somewhat complicated character. He had returned to Vermont the previous summer, after some years in upstate New York. Things had taken a bad turn — a series of troubled relationships and jobs that didn’t work out. He spent Thanksgiving with his mother, who later told a reporter that he had had mental-health struggles but was “totally normal” that day. Eaton appeared to have engaged in political discussion online. According to a local Vermont paper, he had left comments on X about an op-ed piece about Gaza — “What if someone occupied your country? Wouldn’t you fight them?” — and described himself as a “radical citizen pa-trolling demockracy and crapitalism for oathcreepers.” Per a police affidavit, Eaton had a pistol, a rifle and two shotguns in his apartment, along with ammunition consistent with casings found at the crime scene. (Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three charges of attempted second-degree murder.)



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