American-Muslim, left wheelchair-bound after racist attack, redirects focus to Gaza humanitarian crisis

Sun, 10 Mar 2024 7:23 GMT
Hisham Awartani tells his mother he thought he would be shot in Palestine, not in US after he, 2 friends shot in Vermont waking to Thanksgiving celebration hosted by his family.
American-Muslim, left wheelchair-bound after racist attack, redirects focus to Gaza humanitarian crisis

Hisham Awartani redirected his attention from his personal struggle to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza following a racist attack that left him wheelchair-bound.

The American-Muslim echoes sentiments shared by his American mother, Elizabeth Price, and Palestinian father, Ali Awartani.

Reflecting on their son's ordeal, intertwined with the ongoing situation in Gaza and the West Bank, the couple advocates for greater awareness of the escalating strife in Gaza amid mounting tensions.

Price, formerly an anthropology student at Harvard University, recounted her journey to Palestine for research, where she met Awartani in 1991, despite familial opposition.

"I fell in love with Palestine first. It took us about seven years to get around to marrying each other," she said.

They returned to Ramallah in 2004 when their son was 2 years old. The younger Awartani completed his education there and was accepted to Brown University, one of the leading schools in the US, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Highlighting Hisham's passion for mathematics and philosophy, Price noted his double major in mathematics and archaeology, starting in his third year.

Price recounted receiving the news of Hisham's shooting while in Ramallah.

"I was in shock, but when you're in shock you can just kind of continue going. I primarily felt guilt about the fact that the two boys had been at my mother's house and that they'd been shot too," she said.

Describing the critical 24 hours after the incident, Price said medical decisions needed to be made urgently, but they were far away. They received the news on Saturday night, but could only arrive in the US by Wednesday.

She highlighted delays in reaching the US due to Israeli restrictions, noting that despite her husband being an American, limitations were imposed on Palestinian-American citizens after Oct. 7, compelling them to first travel to Jordan.

The other students who were shot in November were Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College and Tahseen Ahmad, a student at Trinity College. All three are 20 years old.

The students were shot while walking in Burlington where they were to take part in a Thanksgiving celebration hosted by Awartani's family. Two of the students are US citizens, while the third is a permanent resident.

The students were speaking Arabic and wearing keffiyehs when they were shot, according to Abed Ayoub, the executive director of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The keffiyeh is a scarf worn in many parts of the Arab world.

Focus to be on Gaza, not him

After returning to school following his hospitalization due to the attack that left him wheelchair-bound, Awartani continues to inspire with his resilience.

Despite undergoing two hours of physical therapy daily, Hisham remains determined to resume his studies, according to his mother.

"He is trying to find his place in the same world with a different perspective and a different setup. He went to a class for the first time, face to face a few days ago, and it took 15 minutes for him to get there. So, the university has been really helpful," she said.

Underlining that she has always been proud of his son, Price said Hisham spoke on the issue only to draw attention to the general situation in Palestine. He said that he had the necessary resources.

Her son wanted the focus to be on Gaza, not him, she said.

Hisham said he thought he would be shot at some point, but it would be in Palestine, not America. He had previously been shot in the knee when he attended a protest in the West Bank. The Israeli army often targets knees to paralyze or maim, said Price.

Reflecting on the attacks in Gaza, Price expressed the profound impact it has on her daily life.

"I live every day haunted by what's going on over there. Every glass of water we drink, every time I sit down, every time I sleep in a warm bed. We live a double life -- one where we have what we have, a constant feeling of guilt, and then this feeling that it's just so unfair that we get to have what we have," she said.

Regarding the fundamental objectives of the Israeli government and military, Price shared her perspective, stating it is attempting ethnic cleansing in Gaza and the West Bank.

Highlighting the need for increased pressure from the international community, she emphasized that Israel's violations often go unpunished, particularly with support from countries like the US and the UK.

Price emphasized that the Palestinian people's right to return to their homes and cities should not be given up and said Gaza is and will continue to be a perfect part of Palestine.

They have green light to kill more people

Ali Awartani admitted that he and his family do not follow television or newspapers to stay informed in Ramallah about incidents unfolding in Gaza.

Instead, they hear first-hand accounts from personal acquaintances, which leave them speechless.

"I have a lot of friends in every part of Gaza. And just hearing what they have to say is ... I have no word when I talk to them. I do not know what to say," he said. "I have water, I have a roof, and food and I am just one hour from Gaza. It is so close. They are so isolated.”

In conversations with friends, Awartani recounted witnessing what he perceives as acts of genocide.

Recounting a particular incident, he said his friend's elderly mother and disabled wife were there. They were told to leave the house.

"They are forcing people to leave their homes, and they know if there is an old woman in this house who refuses to leave, at the end they said, you must leave. So, she left, and the sniper shot both of them. So, they know they are shooting women," he said.

It does not matter the numbers, he said, because "obviously they have the green light to kill more people, and the world is just watching. So, they will kill more."

Expressing exhaustion, Awartani said they pray for peace. No one loves suffering. Neither side wants war.


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