Houston’s Palestinian and Israeli community concerned about safety amid rise in hate crimes in US

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Three Palestinian college students are recovering from their injuries after they were shot by a stranger while visiting a relative in Vermont for Thanksgiving break. Police said they were speaking Arabic, and two of the victims were wearing Palestinian headscarves at the time of the unprovoked attack.

Investigators are now looking into this as a hate crime, something advocates said has been on the rise again in the last two months. According to the latest data, there’s been an uptick across the U.S. when it comes to Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents ever since the war between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7.

READ MORE:3 Palestinian college students shot in Vermont, police say

For Noya Zucker, who is a Jewish-American living in Houston, she said it has been extremely heartbreaking watching the warfare in the Middle East from across the world, wondering every single day about the well-being of her loved ones.

“It’s been a really sad, shocking, and heavy time. It’s unfathomable, and it’s scary. It shatters your sense of stability, what you think can and can’t happen in the world. It just leaves you feeling very vulnerable,” Zucker said.

Shifa, a Palestinian-American who only wanted to share her first name, shares similar concerns about family members who are still living in the Gaza strip in what she describes as “traumatizing, dehumanizing, and unexplainable” conditions.

But even here at home, there’s concern for her family and the community’s own safety as well. Shifa said she was the victim of a hateful attack before, back in 2016, when the Trump-era Muslim ban was implemented.

“Unfortunately, this is not something that is a new concept for me, other Palestinians, or other minorities. There is an added extra sense of vigilance that we all have about areas of town that we’re in and what we’re wearing and things like that,” Shifa shared. “But we are not going to water down our Palestinian identity because I think it would just be a huge disservice and injustice to the millions of people who are suffering. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t aware that we are possibly putting our lives on the line.”

Zucker shared that she sometimes feels hesitant about wearing or displaying anything that might show that she’s Jewish, due to the reports she’s hearing about hate crimes against Jews and Israelis throughout the country.

“People are starting to go under the radar more, trying not to put their Jewishness out there because of fear of what that may mean or because they’re scared that their homes will be targeted. You don’t know who you’re coming in contact with and how they’re going to react. So just to be safe, sometimes it’s better not to advertise,” she said.

READ MORE: Israel and Palestine-tied Houstonians react to Middle East war: ‘It was incredibly painful’

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded a total of 312 antisemitic incidents between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23. The ADL said 190 of those were directly linked to the war in Israel and Gaza. During the same period in 2022, the organization received 64 preliminary reports.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) received a total of 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias, which is a 216% increase over the previous year. In that same 29-day period in 2022, CAIR comparatively received 406 complaints.

Locally, representatives from ADL’s Southwest chapter and CAIR Houston said they are still gathering exact numbers and don’t have data readily available. However, they said they are seeing a spike from the last two months, but not to the levels of the national rates.

Shifa believes this may be due to underreporting.

“I have spoken to a number of Palestinian Houstonians, who have told me about interactions that they’ve had. I’ve asked them, ‘Have you reported that? Have you reached out to CAIR?’ And they’ll say, ‘No, I just didn’t think about it after that,'” Shifa said.

No matter where people stand, both Shifa and Zucker agree that hateful speech and violent acts based on someone’s identity and background are never acceptable.

“I have hope that people in general are a lot more accepting than they have been in previous times and that everybody realizes that there’s so many sides to this,” Zucker said.

For stories on Houston’s diverse communities, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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