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Prosecutors treating attempted drowning of Palestinian-American child as hate crime

Palestinian organisations and rights groups say Biden's support of Israel is partly to blame for the rise in hate attacks
A police car drives down a street in Dayton, Ohio on 6 August 2019 (Scott Olson/AFP)

On 19 May, a Palestinian-American mother living in an apartment complex in Euless, Texas took her children for a swim in the building's pool. What followed was a violent altercation where a drunk woman allegedly made racist remarks and then proceeded to try and drown her three-year-old daughter.

Prosecutors are now seeking to treat the case as a hate crime, and rights groups say the incident is a symptom of the larger spike in anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia that has taken place in the United States since the beginning of Israel's war on Gaza in October.

“We are seeing a new level of bigotry here where a person deeply believes they get to decide, based on religion, spoken language and country of origin, whose kids deserve to stay alive and whose don’t," said Shaimaa Zayan, the operations manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations' Austin chapter.

The incident also drew comparisons to six-year-old Wadea al-Fayoume, who was killed in October when a man broke into his mother's apartment and stabbed him 26 times. Fayoume's mother was also injured in the incident.

US President Joe Biden commented on the attempted drowning, saying in a statement: "I am deeply disturbed by the reports of an attempted drowning of a three-year-old Palestinian-American at a neighbourhood pool in Texas."

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But Palestinian rights groups have said Biden's policy in support of Israel's war on Gaza, including his public statements that repeated false claims about Palestinians beheading children, are in part to blame for the rise in violence against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims in the country.

"This is the result of genocidal dehumanisation. The anti-Palestinian racism that drives Israel's mass killings of children in Palestine also drives attacks against Palestinian youth in Texas, Vermont and Illinois," the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights said on X.

Nowhere is safe

The Palestinian-American woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous but identifies herself in a report by CAIR-Austin as Mrs H, told the rights group that she took her children to the apartment complex's swimming pool and was watching her children play in the shallow end when a white woman entered the area.

Mrs H, who herself was wearing a hijab and modest swimwear, was approached by the woman, identified in the police report as Elizabeth Wolf, 42, according to the CAIR report.

Mrs H, 32, told police that Wolf questioned where she was from and also asked whether the two children playing in the pool were hers. After Mrs H answered, Wolf proceeded to grab her six-year-old son who was able to escape the woman's grasp with a scratch on his finger.

After this, Wolf grabbed Mrs H's three-year-old daughter and forced her underwater. The police report did not say how long the child was held underwater, however, another resident of the complex, Emma Aziz, told local news outlet Fox4 that she was also there that day.

"She was like, 'help me! She’s killing my baby, she’s killing my baby!'" Aziz told the news outlet.

Aziz told Fox4 that she called for someone to help save the young girl while someone else called the police.

"It was crazy, you know I was shaking, my son was there. Everybody was like really, really terrified," she said. 

According to the police report, the child was coughing up water and was yelling for help. CAIR reported further that as Wolf was being taken away by police, she shouted to a bystander woman who was consoling Mrs H: "Tell her I will kill her, and I will kill her whole family."

“We are American citizens, originally from Palestine, and I don’t know where to go to feel safe with my kids," Mrs H said.

"My country is facing a war, and we are facing that hate here. My daughter is traumatised; whenever I open the apartment door, she runs away and hides, telling me she is afraid the lady will come and immerse her head in the water again."

CAIR has reported a large uptick in the number of complaints it has received, particularly in the last three months of 2023, when it received more than 3,500 complaints of bias incidents.

The attempted drowning is only the latest in a string of high-profile attacks on Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs that has taken place since October.

In addition to the killing of Wadea al-Fayoume in Illinois, three Palestinian students in Vermont were shot while walking down the street, and a Muslim student was assaulted in April when he was leaving his local mosque in Texas.

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