By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — Police in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield arrested a man on Saturday for killing a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy and wounding his mother, a violent act police attributed to islamophobia and “the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
The killing is being investigated as a hate crime and brought home fears of violence against Palestinian and Muslim Americans in the wake of Hamas’ invasion of Israel and Israel’s subsequent war in Gaza. The act has drawn broad condemnation, including from President Joe Biden; Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both of whom are Jewish; and multiple Jewish organizations.
“There is no humane world that can and should tolerate the murder of an innocent child because of his identity,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “The tragic events in the Middle East, begun by the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas, have brought ideologies of hate to the fore across the world – notably antisemitism and Islamophobia.”
According to Chicago’s ABC affiliate, the boy, Wadea Al-Fayoum, was stabbed to death by Joseph Czuba, 71, the family’s landlord, who said, “You Muslims must die.” Czuba used a military-style knife to stab the boy 26 times, and his mother 12 times, according to police.
Al-Fayoume’s mother immigrated from the West Bank 12 years ago. According to reports, Czuba had previously been friendly with the fam ily and the little boy.
“The Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Palestinian racism being spread by politicians, media outlets, and social media platforms must stop. Now,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
President Joe Biden condemned the killing and also warned against violence targeting Palestinians and Muslims.
“Jill and I were sickened to learn of the brutal murder of a child and the attempted murder of the child’s mother yesterday in Illinois,” Biden said on X. “Our condolences and prayers are with the family. This act of hate against a Palestinian Muslim family has no place in America.”
Pritzker and Mayorkas both cast the attack in the context of fears of rising violence against Jews and Muslims in the wake of the war. Pritzker called the attack “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 said.
“Today, MK and I join our Muslim and Palestinian brothers and sisters in mourning this tragic loss and praying for the recovery of Wadea’s mother,” said Pritzker’s statement. He closed with a traditional Jewish saying referencing the dead: “May Wadea Al-Fayoume’s memory be a blessing.”
Jewish groups have condemned the killing as well. The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement on Sunday that it was “disgusted and horrified that a 6-year-old boy was murdered and his mother was severely injured in #Plainfield, IL, allegedly because they are Muslim. We express our condolences to the Muslim community and categorically reject all anti-Muslim hate.”
And he Jewish Council for Public Affairs pleaded for tolerance.
“Over the last week, we’ve seen Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate, & antisemitism skyrocket here in the U.S.,” the group said on X. “We all have an obligation to speak out and stand up against it, no matter how one feels about the situation in Israel and Gaza.”