Thoughts on three Palestinian men shot this week in Vermont.
As Peter Beinart correctly argues, anti-Palestinianism is not a word in American English. I can tell since the internet helpfully underlines it in red to mark it for correction whenever I write it. Of course, it ought to be a word. It can become a word. It needs to become a word so that the phenomenon to which it points can be acknowledged.
Hateful anti-Palestinian feelings almost certainly are implicated in the shooting of three Palestinian-American students in Burlington, Vermont, this weekend. Of the three, Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed, two are American citizens, and the third is a legal resident. Hisham Awartani, a student at Brown University, has a bullet lodged in his spine and may never walk again. He and one other are still in critical condition. One student has been released, but his identity has not be revealed for the sake of his own safety.
That’s right. This young man is not safe in America even after surviving a gunshot wound. Sounds like hate to me.
Anti-Palestinianism is real... It must cease.
All three of these young men were graduates of a Quaker high school in the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah. They were taught by people who believe in nonviolence.
They were visiting their aunt and their uncle (Rich Price) and had just been to a party for Price’s 8-year old sons. They went for a walk in the neighborhood and then were shot down. Two were wearing kuffiyehs, scarves typically worn by Palestinians though not exclusive to them, and they were speaking in a mixture of Arabic and English.
Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said, according to Kathy McCormack at AP, “In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime. And I have already been in touch with federal investigatory and prosecutorial partners to prepare for that if it’s proven.”
Although the alleged shooter, Jason J. Eaton, 48, has not yet be charged with a hate crime enhancement, prosecutors are seeking the information that would allow them to apply that enhancement to the charges.
The families of the three young men said in a posting to X, “We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children. We call on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation, including treating this as a hate crime. We will not be comfortable until the shooter is brought to justice.”
Awartani, from his sickbed, issued a statement on the shooting for a candlelight vigil held at Brown University:
“It’s important to recognize that this is part of the larger story. This hideous crime did not happen in a vacuum. As much as I appreciate and love every single one of you here today, I am but one casualty in this much wider conflict.
Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life here would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army. The soldier who shot me would go home and never be convicted. I understand that the pain is so much more real and immediate because many of you know me, but any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine.
This is why when you say your wishes and light your candles today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, but rather as proud member of a people being oppressed.”
Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are the last groups that it is all right to hate in the United States. The leader of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump, has tried to gain popularity by defecating on these groups with his big mouth. President Joe Biden has contributed to the demonization of Palestinians by purveying misinformation about the current conflict in the Mideast. He devalued Palestinian lives by baselessly and falsely calling into question the validity of the Gaza Ministry of Health professionals’ careful estimates of Palestinian deaths under Israeli bombardment. He erased the dead bodies of over 5,000 Palestinian children and over 10,000 noncombatant women and men. For all his citation of his Irish heritage and culture, Biden’s instincts are to side with the equivalent of the British in any anticolonial struggle.
American Zionists of whatever religious persuasion (Biden is a Catholic) have also played a role in the diminution of Palestinian humanity. Their line has been there there is no such thing as a Palestinian, though that isn’t a talking point into which Biden buys. This line seems to conflict with their other frequent assertion, that there are no innocent Palestinian civilians, which recognizes the Palestinians’ existence only to configure them as a terrorist people whose children are also terrorists and who all deserve to be killed or driven into the desert. That seems like a lot for people who don’t even exist in the first place.
My colleague Margaret Somers in her seminal book Genealogies of Citizenship discussed how the Nazis deliberately took citizenship away from German Jews so as to turn them into human flotsam and jetsam, unloved and unlovely on the world stage. The Nazis taunted their critics who decried state Antisemitism in the early 1930s, asking who now would take in these stateless people. The answer: almost no one. Certainly not Roosevelt’s America, where Washington officials feared riots if they let in large numbers of refugees at a time when 25% of Americans were unemployed. And virtually no one else stepped up, not even Brazil. Those Jews who were able to flee were dumped in a poor, dusty Third World British colony, not admitted to so-called “the civilized world.”
The Israelis are nothing like the Nazis in most respects. But they also have a policy of keeping the Palestinians in the Occupied territories, including Gaza, stateless. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu just argued to his Likud Party that they should not dump him as leader because he is the only one who can handle Biden and fend off international demands for a Palestinian state– i.e. that he is the only one who can keep the Palestinians stateless.
Statelessness makes people look suspicious. Many Romani suffer from the same problem. The settled, rooted, citizens are afraid of those uprooted and made stateless. Somers quotes Hannah Arendt and Justice Earl Warren to the effect that citizenship is the right to have rights.
Because the Israelis ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, who have grown into millions of descendants today, they lost everything—their property, their crops, their homes, and their right to have basic human rights. Some 70% of Palestinians in Gaza are from such dispossessed families, and they have now been ethnically cleansed for a second time, in 2023—a million and a half of them, which Biden and Tony Blinken say is just hunky dory. In the West Bank, Israeli squatters steal Palestinians’ land at will, as the Israeli army looks on or even actively helps.
Some Palestinians turned to violence (a remarkably small minority given what has been done to them) as a result of the injustices the Israelis visited on them. Their very violence was used to further impeach them as worthless specimens of humanity, as though the Zionist movement had not spawned violent terrorist groups and militias who killed thousands and expelled hundreds of thousands of people, who blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and engaged in assassination. Once the Zionists had a state, they gained the legitimacy of statecraft, and state terror is almost never punished. The exception is where, as with the U.S. struggle against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the terrorism of a state can be deployed against it for geopolitical purposes by a rival.
Americans have painted their anxieties on the Palestinians. In the Cold War, conservative burghers like Yasser Arafat and his PLO were painted as Communists. Hollywood’s favorite villains have been Arabs and Palestinians. In George Burns’ comedic film “Oh God, You Devil” (1984), when images of the satanic are flashed on the screen, Yasser Arafat’s face was one of them. It is difficult to distinguish Arafat’s and the PLO’s motives, however, from those of George Washington and the insurrectionists against the British in the eighteenth century (except that the British hadn’t done anything to the colonists like what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians).
Then in the era of Bush’s War on Terror, the Palestinians were scooped up under that label, even though by that time the PLO had recognized Israel and had been screwed over by the Israelis as a result.
There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian-Americans, who deserve the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as all other Americans. They also have a right to wear a kuffiyeh, to speak the beautiful and divine language of Arabic in public, and to critique the colonialism that has impelled their diaspora.
Anti-Palestinianism is real. It is, as Beinart remarks, a commonplace of the discourse of U.S. members of Congress. It must cease. Michael Connelly’s tough-as-nails detective, Hieronymous Bosch, has as his motto, as a fierce defender of victims, “Everybody counts or nobody counts.” That’s what Hisham Awartani was saying from his hospital bed. He, tragically, has likely lost the use of his legs. His plight, of being shot for walking while Palestinian, however, is all too common in Occupied Palestine itself. Americans have to care about Palestinians both here and there, because if they don’t they make hollow the ideals of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. They create a situation where nobody counts, really. Because someone, the one with the kuffiyeh, doesn’t count.