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Supporters of both Palestine and Israel face off in duelling protests at Washington Square Park on October 17, 2023 in New York City. The protest, which required police to keep the two groups separate, comes as the number of civilians killed in Gaza continues to rise as Israel prepares for an expected ground invasion of the territory. Image Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON: In the days following Hamas’ bloody attack on Israel, many Arab and Muslim Americans have worried over signs of a return to the atmosphere of suspicion that hung over their communities in the United States after 9/11.

Those fears were brutally underscored when a little boy of Palestinian origin was stabbed to death in Illinois.

Six-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume was stabbed 26 times on Saturday by his family’s 71-year-old landlord, according to police, who charged the assailant with hate crimes.

The man shouted, “You Muslims must die” at the child’s mother, who was seriously injured in the attack, according to text messages the mother sent to the murdered boy’s father while in the hospital and cited by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

According to police, Wadea and his mother “were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”

President Joe Biden, who has given his unwavering support to Israel, said he was “shocked and sickened” by the assault, and stressed his rejection of Islamophobia.

The little boy “paid the price for the atmosphere of hate and otherization and dehumanization,” said Ahmed Rehab, head of the CAIR office in Chicago.

“We’ve warned about not recreating the same mistake we had in the post-9/11 environment,” he said. “But here we are.”


Sarah Suzuki Harvard, 30, grew up in Plainfield, Illinois, where Wadea Al Fayoume was killed.

“We’re returning to the Islamophobic levels of 9/11 - and it’s only going to get worse,” she said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The former-journalist- turned-comedian, whose father is Moroccan and mother is Japanese, told AFP she remembers a difficult environment in the years following the September 11, 2001 Al Qaida attacks in New York and Washington, and the “harassment” she witnessed as a child.

The situation was so bad, she said, that her family decided to change their last name to avoid discrimination.

When she learned of the little boy’s murder, she said she felt “so much pain and heartache.”

“Then I was scared, because my family lives there,” she said.

“I texted my dad: ‘Please be careful when you go to the masjid (mosque). I love you. Make sure you tell my aunt and uncle.’”

Zenjabela, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Palestinian descent who preferred not to give her full name, said she had felt “hostility” directed at her in recent days, adding she had seen people in her neighborhood being verbally abused for saying “as-salaam alaikum” - a Muslim greeting that means “Peace be upon you” in Arabic.

“I’ve never felt so much anxiety about perception of Muslims and Palestinians and Arabs in general,” she told AFP.

‘All anti-Semitic’

Against this backdrop of rising tensions, some US elected officials have released statements that many have called inflammatory.

“The United States should have no part in providing aid to Gaza for the same reason the US didn’t provide aid to Nazi Germany. Aiding Gaza will only prolong the rule of Hamas,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas posted on social media.

Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis, who is running in the Republican party’s presidential primary election, declared the United States could not accept any refugees from Gaza because “not all of them are Hamas, but they are all anti-Semitic.”

“How incredibly destructive and dangerous that rhetoric is,” Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told CNN.

“We just had a six-year-old boy stabbed 26 times... because of rhetoric like that,” she said. “It is unacceptable. It is reckless and no leader in the United States of America should be amplifying a message like that.”

Aya Hijazi, a 36-year-old American social justice activist born to an Egyptian mother and a Lebanese father, said she feels “silenced and demonized.”

“Basically, it’s kind of like you have to prove that you’re not a terrorist,” she told AFP.

“I love to wear the keffiyeh,” the black and white scarf that symbolizes the Palestinian cause.

But, she said, “now I think twice and three times” before putting it on.

“I’m a mother now,” said the Virginia resident. “Am I endangering my daughter?”