TEL AVIV, Israel — When the war began in Gaza following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas-led militants, the family of Hisham Awartani decided he should remain in the U.S., where he's a student at Brown University, rather than return home for the holidays to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"My husband didn't want Hisham to come back for Christmas," says Awartani's mother Elizabeth Price. "He thought our son would be safer [in the U.S.] than in Palestine."

On Saturday, Awartani, 20, was one of three men of Palestinian descent shot while visiting family in Burlington, Vermont. According to Price, her son was severely injured.

"The doctors are currently saying it's unlikely he'll be able to use his legs again," Price tells NPR by phone from her home in Ramallah. "He's confronting a life of disability, a potentially irreversible change to his life and what it means for his future."

Awartani is studying mathematics and archaeology at Brown. He's a graduate of the Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-run K-12 school in the West Bank.

"I think it's important for these boys to be seen as fully fledged people," Price says. "They are the brightest of the brightest. They would have discussions of mathematics and history."

Price says she and her husband, Marwan Awartani, are now scrambling to travel from Ramallah to Vermont.

Because of the war and heightened security restrictions imposed by Israeli officials on Palestinians, the couple plans to cross by land into Jordan and then fly to the U.S. Their daughter will remain behind in the West Bank.

The other two Palestinian men injured in Saturday's shooting are Kinnan Abdalhamid, a junior at Haverford College, and Tahseen Ali Ahmed, a student at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

"These are boys who grew up in my house, I consider all three of them my children," Price says. "I am so glad I'm going to see them and care for them."

Authorities haven't determined whether the shooting was a hate crime, but in a statement over the weekend, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said: "In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime."

Murad said two of the three men were wearing black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot.

Police arrested Jason J. Eaton, 48, for the shootings on Sunday afternoon. During a court appearance on Monday, he pleaded not guilty to three charges of attempted second-degree murder.

Price, a U.S. citizen with family in Vermont, notes that the shooting came after weeks of violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

"The last six weeks have been a time of great suffering," she says. "We have grieved at the enormity of the loss and suffering of the Palestinian people."

The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas-led militants killed some 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.

In the weeks since, Israel's military offensive in Gaza, aimed at eliminating Hamas, has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in violence in the West Bank since Oct. 7, according to the Associated Press.

"My husband is so bitter," Price says. "He thought my son would be safe in Burlington."

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