Monday, February 26, 2024

In many ways, the three young men who were shot as they ambled down a sidewalk last Saturday in Burlington, Vt., were like any other longtime friends reuniting on a leisurely Thanksgiving weekend. What made them different may have also made them targets: Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani are Palestinian Americans, navigating between the peaceful privilege of college life in America and the dangerous instability of their conflict-ravaged homeland some 5,000 miles away.

In an instant, one of the injured students said on Wednesday, those two worlds collapsed into one, shaking his sense of the United States as safer. In his first interview since the shooting, a day after he was discharged from the hospital, Mr. Abdalhamid said that he expects the attack to have a lasting impact — not only for him and his friends, but for every Palestinian. “In the West Bank, we’re not safe because of the occupation, and as a Palestinian American, I’m not safe in America because of people like this that might come out,” he said. “It’s just something that’s very hard to grapple with.”

The suspect in the shootings, Jason J. Eaton, 48, of Burlington, pleaded not guilty on Monday to three counts of attempted second-degree murder. Investigators have not determined if it was a hate crime, but Mr. Abdalhamid said he believes he and his friends, all 20, were attacked because they were speaking a mix of Arabic and English — “Arabish,” he called it — and wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs, traditional scarves.

Mr. Abdalhamid, an aspiring doctor and a junior at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, said he wondered if the shooting would make families like his reluctant to send their children to school in the United States, an achievement that had made his parents proud.

Mr. Awartani, a Brown University junior who excels in math and had lately discovered a passion for archaeology, suffered a spinal injury that could result in permanent paralysis, his family said. Mr. Ali Ahmad, a Trinity College sophomore described as a gifted writer, web designer and conversationalist, was shot in the chest. Both remained in the hospital on Wednesday.

The homes of Mr. Awartani’s uncle and grandmother in Burlington, a city of 45,000 on the shores of Lake Champlain, had been a welcome refuge. The friends had spent the weekend playing board games and table tennis with Mr. Awartani’s five young cousins, keeping up with homework and taking rambling walks while catching up. “I think they were really glad to reconnect, and provide each other comfort, after a fraught few weeks,” said Rich Price, Mr. Awartani’s uncle, who hosted the friends for the holiday.

“They are normal 20-year-olds, but they’re also extraordinary 20-year-olds,” Mr. Price said. “They have shown remarkable resilience and strength, even humor, and I think being Palestinian in this world demands those traits. So in some respects, they have been trained for very difficult moments, for hardship, and they have demonstrated that.”

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