Vermont shooting victim says he is focused on the suffering in Gaza as he recovers

Kinnan Abdalhamid, one of the three Palestinian students shot in Vermont over Thanksgiving weekend, said he and his friends are “completely focused” on the suffering in Gaza as they recover from their injuries.

Abdalhamid and two of his high school classmates, Hisham Awartani and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, grew up in the West Bank before they attended separate colleges in the U.S. They were visiting family in Burlington when they were shot.

“My friends and I are almost unable to focus on ourselves because of what’s happening back home,” Abdalhamid said. “It’s like experiencing this makes us even more connected to what’s happening.”

A GoFundMe account created Saturday to raise money for Awartani’s medical expenses revealed he is paralyzed from the chest down after having been shot in the spine.

Abdalhamid, an American citizen and a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who was released from the hospital last week, called Awartani the “nicest person I know.”

“I really, really hope Hisham will recover,” Abdalhamid said. “It’s really unfortunate that someone like Hisham has had this happen to him and had his legs taken.”

Abdalhamid said he and his friends are directing their anger less at the perpetrator and more at the “system that produces people” like the shooter.

“We’re not really focusing our anger on that one dude,” he said. “I really don’t know that much about him. I don’t really care about him; I just want him locked away from society for everyone’s safety as long as possible.”

The suspect, Jason J. Eaton, 48, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree attempted murder.

“This is happening to Palestinians across the country and, more importantly, in Gaza,” Abdalhamid said. “We’re mad at the system that’s allowing not three of us to be injured but thousands and thousands and millions of us to be displaced and injured and killed.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said Monday that nearly 1.9 million people, or about 85% of the population, have been displaced in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel.

The death toll has surpassed 15,900 after weeks of Israeli retaliatory attacks, health officials say.

Abdalhamid said he knows someone who has lost 70 family members since the war began and acknowledged the “psychological toll” the violence is taking on Palestinians in Gaza and beyond.

“We don’t want to be a distraction for what’s happening in Gaza,” Abdalhamid said. “If we have all this trauma and PTSD from being shot with a small pistol, imagine the trauma you’d have at night with warplanes flying over, the most advanced technology, and you don’t know if you are being bombed or not.”

Abdalhamid said he was “extremely surprised” that the Burlington shooting received such widespread attention.

“I think a big part of it is because I am Palestinian American. And I’m able to walk and speak like an American because I am an American who was raised in the West Bank,” Abdalhamid said. “It’s also important to recognize that just because a population doesn’t speak or walk or talk like Americans, that doesn’t make them any less human.”

Abdalhamid lived in the West Bank for most of his life until two years ago, when he moved to the U.S. to attend Haverford, a decision made in part because his mother thought it would be safer, he said.

Two of the victims were wearing kaffiyehs, traditional Palestinian scarves, when they were shot. Abdalhamid confirmed they were speaking a mix of Arabic and English, which he “immediately” considered a potential factor in the crime.

The victims’ families have encouraged law enforcement to investigate the shooting as a hate crime.

“No one’s child should be attacked simply because of their identity,” they said in a joint statement. “Our children, Palestinian children, like everyone else, deserve to feel safe.”

Police have yet to release a possible motive.

“Palestinians have a strong sense of community, and we’re loving people,” Abdalhamid said. “Even under such circumstances, we still remain open-minded and kind to each other. We love each other. We love everyone else who doesn’t demonize us and hurts us. … This isn’t new to us Palestinians.”