A fundraiser for a young Palestinian American man left paralyzed after a shooting in Vermont last month has almost reached its $1-million US goal in less than three days.
Hisham Awartani, a 20-year-old university student who grew up in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was walking with two Palestinian American friends in the city of Burlington Nov. 25 when police say 48-year-old Jason Eaton shot them with a handgun in a suspected hate crime.
One of the bullets fired lodged in Awartani’s spine, paralyzing him from the chest down, his family said over the weekend.
His family and friends started a GoFundMe campaign over the weekend to raise money to support him through his recovery, including the cost of medical bills, rehabilitation, his care and adaptive needs as well as other expenses not covered by insurance. His family has received estimates that costs will exceed more than $1 million in the first year of his recovery alone.
As of Monday evening, the campaign raised more than $980,000 since it was set up on Saturday — with a largest single donation of $50,000 from an anonymous donor.
Awartani’s mother, Elizabeth Price, told CBS News her son underwent surgery last week and is “transitioning to recovery” but it’s unclear if he’ll ever be able to regain normal function of his legs.
“I think it’ll take a few more weeks before he is considered to be in a kind of chronic condition, but they’re immediately wanting him to do rehabilitation. So he’s been doing some of the hospital, and he’s been pushing himself really hard,” she said.
Price told CBS News that she and Awartani’s father had to travel 16 hours from the West Bank through Jordan in order to be with their son in Vermont because her husband couldn’t travel through Israel.
Hate-motivated attacks on the rise
The shooting came amid a surge in anti-Islamic, anti-Arab and antisemitic incidents and threats reported around the United States since a conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas erupted on Oct. 7.
Awartani was walking with Tahseen Aliahmad and Kinnan Abdalhamid, both 20, after having dinner at his grandmother’s house the evening all three men were shot.
The childhood friends had reunited over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend on break from university. Awartani is a third-year student at Brown University in Rhode Island, while Aliahmad studies at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Abdalhamid attends Connecticut’s Trinity College.
Aliahmad and Abdalhamid were seriously injured in the shooting but both were released from hospital last week.
The young men were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, Burlington police said.
Police Chief Jon Murad said on Nov. 27 that, according to interviews with the victims, the shooter did not speak and none of the men recalled ever having seen the man who shot them before the incident.
Eaton was arrested the following day at his Burlington apartment where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bond while authorities investigate whether the shooting was a hate crime.
A ‘cruelly ironic twist’
“Certainly in the eyes of the family, it’s clear that these three young men were targeted because of how they looked, how they were dressed, what language they were speaking,” Arwatani’s uncle Rich Price said in an interview with CBS News.
He said dehumanizing rhetoric directed at Palestinians — young Palestinian men in particular — will only lead to more harm being done to people like his nephew and friends.
The GoFundMe page describes what happened to Awartani a “cruelly ironic twist.”
“Hisham’s parents had recommended he not return home over winter break, suggesting he would be safer in the U.S. with his grandmother,” the page states.
“Burlington is a second home to Hisham, who has spent summers and happy holidays with his family there. It breaks our hearts that these young men did not find safety in his home away from home.”
Awartani, according to the GoFundMe page, hopes to return to his studies next semester at Brown University where he is pursuing a dual degree in math and archeology while working as a teaching assistant.