Workers at a Palestinian Community Center in New Jersey were left on edge after a man made over two dozen phone calls to the center, threatening to bomb them.
The hateful phone calls started Tuesday after staff returned from Memorial Day weekend, the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton said. Abire Sabbagh, the center's community engagement coordinator, picked up the phone and she was able to remain calm enough to keep the caller talking as her colleague recorded parts of the conversation on a cellphone.
"You're a terrorist," the caller said in one of over two dozen calls made on Tuesday and Wednesday. "You guys blow up buildings and stuff, I don't know. Are you going to come over to my house and behead me?"
Sabbagh also said she was met with violent anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic rhetoric, along with misogyny and threats of sexual abuse.
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"[He was] saying that he's going to give us a taste of our own medicine," Sabbagh said, adding that she feels the caller was empowered to threaten Palestinian Americans "because of our country's blind support to Israel, our physical, moral, financial support to Israel."
The city where the center is located, along with neighboring Paterson, is home to the second-largest concentration of Palestinian Americans in the country and the terroristic threats have caught the attention of local law enforcement as well as the FBI. The Passaic County prosecutor's office says it is investigating the calls as a hate crime.
"We will not tolerate any time of hate crime, any type threat or intimidation. Every community, every ethnic group should feel safe in their community where they live," Passaic County Sheriff Richard Bernik said.
The PACC opened in 2014, and in the six years that it has brought the community together with Arabic classes for kids and other events, the center says it has never received such hate.
"At the time they received a bomb threat, there were children here," Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said Wednesday at a news conference. "This is yet another disgraceful example to dehumanize Palestinians. Let's call it for what it's worth."
So far, no arrests have been made and the caller appeared to be unintimidated, telling the police: "you can't do anything to me."
While the daily bloodshed in Gaza City has calmed for now, community member Basem Hishmeh, who came to the U.S. from Palestine in 1956, tearfully pled for peace at the news conference.
"It's my country but the Palestinians are my brothers and sisters. I have family there and they have the right to live in peace. They have the right to live with dignity," Hishmeh said.