Relatives Outfit Home for Palestinian Student Shot in Burlington | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Relatives Outfit Home for Palestinian Student Shot in Burlington


Published June 14, 2024 at 8:39 p.m.

Hisham Awartani (center) with his parents - COURTESY OF ELIZABETH PRICE
  • Courtesy of Elizabeth Price
  • Hisham Awartani (center) with his parents
More than six months ago, Palestinian American college student Hisham Awartani was shot on a quiet Burlington street, paralyzing him from the chest down. Soon he’ll be staying less than two blocks from where the shooting took place.

Awartani’s family is installing a wheelchair-accessible tiny home at his grandmother Marian Price’s home on North Prospect Street. He’ll live there whenever he’s on break from his studies at Brown University, his mother, Elizabeth Price, told Seven Days. His next visit to Burlington will be his first since the shooting, she said.

“Our home is where our family is,” Price said. “Wherever he is in the world, my mother’s home is his home base.”

Awartani grew up in the West Bank. He and two childhood friends were visiting his grandmother and uncle, who also lives on North Prospect Street, over the Thanksgiving break last year. The young men were on a walk when a man came outside and, without speaking, shot all three of them. Awartani, who has a bullet lodged in his spine, was the most seriously injured.

Police charged Jason Eaton, who lived in an apartment on the same street, with three counts of second-degree attempted murder. The victim's families believe the young men were targeted for being Palestinian, but prosecutors have yet to charge Eaton, who is white, with a hate crime.
The incident occurred near the start of the Israel-Hamas war and thrust Burlington into the international spotlight — attention that Awartani, for one, resents. In a New York Times op-ed published last month, he lamented that his shooting has received “more sustained coverage than any single act of violence against Palestinians.”

"What are we supposed to make of the world when Palestinian deaths are excused by talking points, repeated again and again on the news?" Awartani wrote.

After he was shot, Awartani underwent intense physical therapy at a Boston hospital. It was there that his family learned about WheelPad, a Wilmington, Vt., company that makes wheelchair-accessible modular homes. In a very Vermont twist of fate, the sales rep had a connection to Awartani’s uncle, Richard Price, who lives next door to Marian.

Awartani's parents still live in the West Bank, so he wanted to live with his relatives during the summer and school breaks. The family considered renovating Marian’s home, but it wouldn’t be easy. The doorways are too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, and there's no bedroom on the first floor.
“We realized that [the WheelPad] was the best option for keeping my mother's place as an accessible home base for him,” Elizabeth Price said.

The plan hit a snag during the permitting process. At a meeting in April, city staff told the Development Review Board that the family’s proposal to place the WheelPad on the north side of Marian’s home would encroach on Richard Price’s property. The unit is 8.5 feet wide by 24 feet long and will be connected to Marian's home.
Hisham Awartani in January - SCREENSHOT/NBC NEWS
  • Screenshot/NBC News
  • Hisham Awartani in January
Burlington planning staff, who are charged with following city zoning to the letter, recommended that the board deny the permit or that the WheelPad go elsewhere, such as in Marian’s backyard. The board also had the option of granting an exception, known as a variance, but members wanted to know more about why Marian couldn't renovate her home or place the WheelPad out back. They closed the meeting without making a decision.

Over the next month, more than a dozen neighbors submitted letters urging board members to approve the permit. Among them were members of the Quaker meeting house and Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, both of which are on North Prospect Street.
“The tragic circumstances surrounding the senseless shooting of Hisham and two other young men cannot be reversed,” the letter from Ohavi Zedek says. “What we can do, however, is to join together in helping Hisham return to Burlington and to his family.”

“Hisham and his family are facing so many challenges,” another neighbor wrote. “I am urging you to do what you can to help lighten their load.”
Patrick Weise, Marian Price's neighbor, preparing the home for the WheelPad on Friday - COURTESY OF MARIAN PRICE
  • Courtesy of Marian Price
  • Patrick Weise, Marian Price's neighbor, preparing the home for the WheelPad on Friday

At a May 7 hearing, planners working with Marian said she'd have to remove her back deck in order to squeeze the WheelPad behind her home. Renovating the house would come at "an immense cost," they said.

The arguments were convincing: The board approved the permit unanimously.

The WheelPad will be delivered later this month, and preparations are already under way. On Friday, a neighbor was dismantling part of Marian’s back deck to create a wheelchair ramp. An electrician and a plumber are coming by next week.

Awartani declined to speak with Seven Days. But his mother said she’s not concerned about him returning to the Queen City.

“It wasn’t Burlington that shot him,” Elizabeth Price said. “Burlington is not to blame for one man’s actions.”

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