By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
U.S. civil rights defenders on Monday condemned the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy in Illinois, an alleged hate crime that occurred amid Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza and incendiary dehumanization of Palestinians in countries including Israel and the United States.
The Will County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) said on Facebook that Wadea Al Fayoume was stabbed 26 times Saturday by his family’s landlord, 71-year-old Joseh Czuba, in Plainfield Township, Illinois, about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. According to WCSO, Czuba used a “12-inch serrated military-style knife that has a seven-inch blade.”
Hanaan Shahin, the slain boy’s 32-year-old mother, was also stabbed more than a dozen times, WCSO said, adding that she is “recovering from her injuries at a local area hospital and is expected to survive this brutal attack.”
WCSO said that “Czuba was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, hate crime… and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.”
“Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis,” the department added, referring to the surprise October 7 attack on Israel by Gaza-based militants that left over 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers dead and Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza that has killed nearly 3,000 Palestinians.
The FBI is also investigating the killing as a hate crime.
Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who attended Al Fayoume’s funeral Monday, said in a statement that “to take a 6-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil.”
“Every single Illinoisan—including our Muslim, Jewish, and Palestinian neighbors—deserves to live free from the threat of such evil,” he added.
U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden also condemned the attack:
This horrific act of hate has no place in America, and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are.
As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred. I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate. We must be unequivocal. There is no place in America for hate against anyone.
At a Sunday news conference, Illinois State Assemblyman Abdelnasser Rashid (D-21)—who is Palestinian American—said: “Let’s be clear. This was directly connected to the dehumanizing of Palestinians that has been allowed over the last week by our media, by our elected officials who have lacked the moral compass and lacked the courage to call for something as simple as de-escalation and peace.”
“Let’s not sugar-coat it,” Rashid wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “this hate crime is a result of the dehumanizing, one-sided media coverage of Palestinians and irresponsible statements from elected officials.”
“Israeli spokespeople have been using genocidal language about Palestinians on news channels every day for the past week,” he added. “The Israeli military has killed over 2,600 Palestinians in the last week, including more than 700 children, and the numbers increase by the hour.”
By Monday the death toll in Gaza approached 3,000, more than 1,000 of whom are children. That’s the most Palestinians ever killed by Israeli forces during a war on Gaza. At least 47 entire Palestinian families have been wiped out.
Responding to Al Fayoume’s murder, NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement that “once again, the proliferation of misinformation and hateful conspiracy theories has resulted in a life lost far too soon.”
“Today, the NAACP grieves the loss of 6-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume. No one should face the threat of violence in their own home, and we must do everything in our power to stop hate wherever it rears its ugly head,” Johnson added. “There is no place for hate in a democracy.”
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that “we have testimony from the mother as to the harrowing moments that unfolded in terms of what was done and said—and it is our worst nightmare.”
“We have full confidence in the authorities to investigate this heinous incident as a hate crime and to do so swiftly,” Rehab added.
“The Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Palestinian racism being spread by politicians, media outlets, and social media platforms must stop,” CAIR national said in a statement.
On Monday, the FBI released its annual hate crime statistics. According to the bureau, antisemitic offenses rose 25% percent from 2021 to 2022, accounting for more than half of all reported religion-based hate crimes. Hate crimes targeting Latino people soared nearly one-third. Anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes increased 16%, while Muslim and Black Americans continued to be disproportionately affected.
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.