All posts by Jamal Cadoura

Jamal Cadoura is a Palestinian American residing in Dearborn, Michigan. Improving humanity is what he lives for. In his spare time, he reads and writes as much as he can. Jamal formerly ran a nonprofit organization, Pens For Peace, and is an author of two novels.

No, The Entire Middle East Shouldn’t Look Like Israel

Image courtesy of Mondoweiss.

Israel illegally occupies the West Bank. Israel has constructed a massive apartheid wall that constricts life for the Palestinians. And Israel benefits its Jewish citizens, while it oppresses the Palestinians–especially the ones in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But none of this seems to matter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that “Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.”

Pompeo is OK with Israel’s atrocities. Israel seems to represent Western values. It has cool restaurants. It has nice beaches. And it serves good food. But what about Israel’s political issues? What about its mistreatment and repression of Palestinian human rights?

If Pompeo wants to praise Israel, then he needs to be clear about what he’s praising. Israel isn’t some fun-loving, peaceful representation of Western democracy and values.

In America, we are free to walk on the same sidewalks. To travel on the same roads. To eat at the same restaurants. None of us need special ID cards to explore the country.

But the reality is different for Palestinians residing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If Palestinians wish to travel to Israel, they need permission. And most of them will never obtain it. They are confined to live within the apartheid wall, dreaming of the land beyond, but never getting the chance to walk on it.

Palestinians have to deal with limited water in the West Bank and the Gaza strip; Israelis don’t. Palestinians can’t walk on certain sidewalks in the West Bank; Israelis can. Palestinians have to go through checkpoints and makeshift roads because of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israelis don’t.

Israel is the epitome of apartheid. Settlers in the West Bank can vote in Israeli elections. Most Palestinians in the West Bank can’t. Settlers in the West Bank can go Tel Aviv for a fun day at the beach. Most Palestinians in the West Bank can’t. Settlers in the West Bank can attend Israeli universities. Most Palestinians in the West Bank can’t.

Israel has made its discrimination more obvious, recently passing the “Jewish-Nation State Law,” which grants exclusivity to Jewish national aspirations. Would Pompeo agree if the US passed a “White-Nation State Law?” Surely, we’d hope that he’d see the racial undertone of such a law.

And what about Gaza? Israel has been imposing an illegal, immoral blockade on it for years. Over 90 percent of the water is undrinkable.  A UN report said that Gaza will be “unlivable by the year 2020.”

Would Pompeo approve of such conditions in any American city? Would he be content with some Americans being unable to travel to certain parts of the country, as others go freely? Would he be content with checkpoints impeding cities and harassing only certain individuals? Would he be content with only some Americans being able to go to certain universities because of political restrictions? Would he be content with some Americans being able to walk on sidewalks as others are forced to alleyways? Would he be content with a racist nation state law?

If the answer is “no,” then Pompeo needs to reevaluate his stance on Israel and its image. We don’t need the Middle East looking more like Israel. We need the Middle East looking less like its racist values and apartheid.

A Palestinian Christian Condemning Evangelism

In Palestine, 16-year-old girls are arrested, terrorized, and abused. Women are compelled to wrestle soldiers to free their screaming, pleading sons. Parents are forced into burying their children who have been killed by the Israeli military.

Yet, for as egregious as these acts are, we don’t hear Christians knocking on any doors to raise awareness or advocating for an end to the occupation, you know, the way Jesus would.

Before anyone accuses me of being hypocritical, understand that I come from a unique background. Being a Palestinian who was raised as a Christian, I see the utter distortions and manipulations that perpetuate Palestinian oppression. Christians, especially in the United States, are duped into supporting Israel because of cherry-picked biblical quotes.

“God says that he blesses those who bless Israel.”
“It’s in the Bible that this is their homeland.”
I hear it all the time.

So, what about all of the people who don’t believe in the Bible? Are they simply forced to endure and suffer persecution because of your theological perceptions? How would Christians feel if Muslims demanded them to accept the Quran? Many would be in an uproar. Just as we wouldn’t expect anyone to push their beliefs on us, we can’t push our beliefs on anyone else.

Palestinians can’t be expected to acquiesce to one of the world’s most brutally oppressive regimes, all because the Bible supposedly mandates Israel’s right to occupy, suppress, and dominate. None of these are true. Biblical prophecies are often misrepresented and taken out of context. But that’s the way our world works. Many Christians are quick to forget about the true teachings of Christ, yet they’re eager to support Israel. What lies at the root of this support is a deep-seated prejudice against Arabs. We’re misconstrued as bloodthirsty demons. Israel should evict us because we don’t understand tranquility, people believe.

If you’re a Christian, you can’t selectively pick verses to justify Israel’s inhumanity. And you certainly can’t turn away from oppressed peoples. Jesus wouldn’t have. Jesus stood up to a tyrannical Roman government, irrespective of the consequences. So why won’t many Christians take a stand for Palestinians?

Palestinian Christians are restricted from visiting churches in Jerusalem. Palestinian Christians can’t travel freely. Palestinian Christians are treated as strangers in their own homeland. But most Christians are unaware of their Palestinian Christian brethren.

Furthermore, support for Israel is in blatant contravention to biblical doctrine. Jesus never would have supported a regime that subjugates millions, conducts murderous assaults on the Gaza strip, and which openly discriminates against non-Jews. Palestinian Muslims and Christians are disenfranchised, hopeless, and at the mercy of a tyrannical occupier.

Christians, the next time you think that God stands with Israel, ask yourselves if God stands with murder. In 2014, during Israel’s last malicious act of genocide on Gaza, over 2100 Palestinians were killed. 1462 were civilians.

Christians, the next time you think that God stands with Israel, ask yourselves if God stands with the restriction of Christians from going to church. A lot of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem have cited the Israeli occupation as the reason for their departure from their historical homeland.

Christians, the next time you think that God stands with Israel, ask yourselves if God condones the mistreatment of one’s neighbors. Jesus commanded people to love their neighbors. Is Israel loving its neighbors when it steals their land, builds illegal settlements, and boots them out?

My fellow Christians, you are not supporting God’s will. You are supporting contradictions. You are supporting ethnic cleansing. You are supporting the most heinous injustice against humanity. Palestinians aren’t the ancient biblical enemies they’re depicted as. Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians alike, are the colonized who advocate tirelessly for freedom and equality, and who stand firmly in the face of colonization. Those are Christian values at their core. In fact, those are human values all are innately entitled to.

Stop with the blind support. Open your eyes and see the stark injustice and occupation. If Jesus were here, he’d side with the Palestinians. And he wouldn’t just be condemning Israel. He’d be condemning all of you, too.

Tribute to Alton Sterling: We are the minority

Multiple gunshots penetrated the onlookers’ ears. Blood sprouted and smeared the front of a silver car. One police officer laid on the floor, his gun still aimed at the dying man.

That dying man’s name? Alton Sterling. Get used to it. You’re going to be hearing it for a while. And you should be. Sterling’s name needs to resonate in our nation for years to come. He’s another Black victim of police brutality. He’s another father who needs to be buried. He’s another son that will be missed. He’s another cousin who families won’t see at barbecues and joyful occasions. And he’s another reminder that our nation has a long way to go.

Sterling can be seen in the video with two officers atop him, forcing and pressing him to the ground. While squirming, as anyone would, one of the officers shouts “Gun!” Then he threatens to shoot. And then he shoots. And then he continues shooting. Sterling is last seen flailing his arm in the air, trying to grasp the atrocity inflicted and maintain what little life he has left.

If you’re not worried about police brutality, you should be. These gut-wrenching instances won’t stop. While many in our nation are shouting for gun control, we have armed, ferocious monsters hiding behind badges and authority inflicting chaos upon our citizens. I don’t hate law enforcement, but they’re people. And if we’re regulated, they need to be regulated too. They’re susceptible to mental illnesses, rage, and any other conflicting element that may cause barbarism.

Police brutality against blacks has plagued and embittered this nation. Statistics from 2015 show that unarmed Blacks were killed at five times the rate of unarmed Whites.  69% of them were unarmed, and an alarming 97% of the time no officers were charged with any crime. That’s disturbing.  If 69% of them were unarmed, how are 97% of these cases exonerating these officers? I’m not against the police force, and I’m not saying that they don’t have a lot on their plates, but this is confounding.

These numbers don’t include 2016 yet. But they do include people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Brown was unjustly shot, and Garner was suffocated to death. His memorable chant of “I can’t breathe” was stitched onto shirts and displayed for the world to see.

And pretty soon, none of us will be able to breathe. We’ll all be pinned down with guns shoved in our faces. We’ll all be shot at. Why? Because we’re all the minority. The majority is the unjust, and the minority is us, the people who are against these heinous acts and who are trying diligently to end them. The people who are at the mercy of this ruthlessness. The people who must band together to return peace and justice to all.

One day, the injustice will be at your doorstep. You’ll be thrown to the ground and tossed around like an old doll. You’ll be deprived of your rights and stripped of your dignity. Wouldn’t you want the world to hear your claim and stake your plight in their minds? I know I would.

The gunshots still ring in my ears. I wasn’t there, but I feel like I was. And honestly, if we don’t realize that we’re the minority, and that this plague will reach all of us one day, it’ll only be so long until it does. Our futures reside within the screams of Garner. They’re staring at us in the pool of blood beneath Sterling. And they’re awaiting our response. It’s time we unify, end oppression and seek justice for all. History is waiting to be written. Hopefully we can give it a good ending.

After Janna Jihad, we have no excuse

At 22 years old, I want to be a journalist. And while I seek inspiration from many different people, my most recent comes from Janna Jihad, who resides in the West Bank of Occupied Palestine. She’s 10. Let that sink in. At 10 years old, she’s not playing with Barbies or trying on makeup. She’s out on the dangerous Palestinian streets confronting armed Israelis, filming bloody scenes and, above all, giving Palestine more of what it needs: a voice.

So, we have no excuse. If Janna can prance around the streets with her camera amid gunshots, bloodied bodies and ravaging tanks, we can certainly do more. Especially here in the U.S.

When we walk outside here, there are no tanks crumpling the ground by our sidewalks. There are no armed troops conducting random raids and arrests. There are no checkpoints. And yet, we’re still idle. We don’t do nearly as much as we can. Janna is doing something simple, yet crucial. She’s spreading awareness.

I remember watching the campaign to stop Joseph Kony. I’d never even heard of Kony, nor of the atrocities he committed in Uganda against children and other innocents. When I first saw the video, it had garnered hundreds of thousands of likes. By the time I watched it again, it had soared to millions. All of the comments revolved around determination to bring this monster to justice. It was awareness. The simple act of notifying people.

We Palestinians need more of it. And we need to be the cause of it. Janna risks her life every day in the West Bank to be a voice for the voiceless. She films what the dead cannot. She speaks for the pained child who’s bleeding beside her. She shows the peaceful and determined side of Palestine the world isn’t used to seeing and hearing. She’s endangering herself for her people. Her age doesn’t exempt her from an Israeli rifle. They’ve murdered plenty of children. What would one more be to their inhumane bloodbath?

We need to do more. We need to occupy the streets and spread the truth about Palestine and Israel’s lack of humanity. We need to educate those who are misinformed. By lacking the fervor of people like Janna, we aren’t campaigning for Palestine’s freedom in the ways we should.

Every day, more Palestinian blood run. Every day, more Palestinian mothers are forced to weep amid their sons’ battered bodies. Every day, more Palestinian land is demolished, colonized, and transformed into some family’s nightmarish memory.

And every day, the people refuse to see. In some cases, it’s not because they can’t, but rather because we’re not showing it to them enough. And no amount can ever be enough. As adults, it is supposed to be our jobs to teach young children like Janna the proper ideals and conduct. But in this case, the kid is ahead of us all. If we weren’t inspired before, the sight of Janna risking her life should be the spark we need.

Israeli citizens are victims of Israel too

They say ignorance is bliss.

But in today’s world, especially in places like Palestine and Israel, ignorance is lethal. It is the weapon that allows oppression and cruelty to occupy. It is the way for governments to pacify their concerned citizens. And it’s precisely the way these murderous regimes are maintained.

Yes, as a Palestinian, I’m crestfallen while reflecting on the state of my homeland and how, day by day, hopes for a Palestinian state wither. But I’m not ignorant, and I know the way the game works. I can acknowledge that Israeli citizens are victims of their government just as we are.

This conflict and the way the Israeli government articulates it to its citizens is reminiscent of the United States and its war with Iraq. Think about it. George W. Bush took the podium, fixed his eyes into the camera and said the U.S. was conducting a war on terror. As a child, I’ll never forget the pride I felt. I actually believed it. All the propaganda — the pictures of supposed “terrorists,” the videos of these terrorists training — it all seemed like our intervention was needed.

And then I grew up and learned the truth. There never were any “weapons of mass destruction.” It was all a pretext used to implement hidden agendas our government wanted. And that’s the way it is for Israeli citizens.

Listen to interviews from some brave Israeli historians and researchers who champion Palestine. Ilan Pappé, a Israeli Historian, explained in a speech how even slight objects such as Israeli school books are falsified to manipulate young Israelis into believing that Palestine was vacant and that the land bloomed because of the Jews. Travel to this side where CNN blares Middle Eastern issues, and we see how the talk is about Israel being “bombarded with missiles.”

Imagine living there. Imagine believing their lies with an immense fear crawling through your veins. You’d expect your government to protect you. You’d believe their convictions. I know I did about the U.S. and its war on terror. Luckily, I discovered facts here because our information isn’t as regulated as Israel’s. According to Eran Efrati, a former IDF soldier and Israeli who comes from a prominent Zionist family, Israel scrutinizes all of their media outlets and filters everything. At least over here, we can run information independently, but in Israel, the game is much different.

Israeli citizens’ lives are controlled more than they realize. They can’t question and publish news freely. They must abide by whatever their government approves.

If we want to invoke change, a place we need to start with is enlightenment of the most important entity: a society’s people.

From my elementary school days, one principle stuck with me, and it’s still important today: popular sovereignty. The power is with the people. If the masses are against a plan, it falls. If they’re for it, it succeeds. Why else would the U.S. and Israel need these falsified stories to perpetrate their acts? The Israeli citizens, in a sense, are oppressed. Not nearly as bad as Palestinians, but they still experience some forms of oppression. And their oppression leads to their ignorance, which is a main aid in crippling the Palestinian plight for freedom.

Israel’s biggest fear is for the world to realize its lies and condemn them for it. And if it came from within, it’d be a catastrophe. They wouldn’t be able to convince their citizens that the apartheid wall is for their safety. They wouldn’t be able to convince them that their illegal settlements also promote Israel’s well-being (that’s another claim Efrati says Israel supports). And it’d be much harder for them to sustain the brutal occupation of the Palestinians.

Imagine how foolish Israel would seem if a majority of its citizens were protesting alongside Palestinians and pointing out their government’s horrific cruelties. It’s safe to say Israel’s stories would weaken tremendously. And it’s also safe to bet that the Palestinian cause would garner even more attention.

Acknowledging the other side is never easy. It comes with much ridicule and scoffs. But there is truth to illuminate. If we want to end oppression, we must come from different angles. Like our world’s ignorance. If we can spread the truth, it’s only a matter of time until these lies are exposed. And for a nation that’s built off of lies like Israel is, that’s what the Palestinians’ freedom relies on.

Why we Palestinians don’t have freedom

All oppressed people had one thing in common: great leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nelson Mandela. Mahatma Gandhi.

These are recognized names that command respect. These gentleman were esteemed leaders that knew the game of oppression and cracked its crippling codes. Gandhi gained overthrew British rule in India with peaceful boycotts. Dr. King quelled the U.S.’s inequality with fiery speeches and mass marches. Mandela was imprisoned for over 25 years, and when he finally was released, worked not only to end apartheid for his people, but to dismantle it in other regions as well.

The Palestinians, unfortunately, have never had a revered leader like those above. Maybe some people acclaim Yasser Arafat as the core of Palestinian pride and struggle, but his contributions didn’t do much. And if they did, we aren’t seeing everlasting effects on the Palestinians as we do with India and Gandhi, Dr. King and the U.S., and South Africa and Mandela.

Oppression can’t be defeated through war. Somewhere along the line, the victors will degenerate into dictators and tyrants. It has to start with a defined leader. One who knows how to articulate peaceful messages and gatherings, one who is dignified as a man of the people. When Dr. King spoke, the masses were silenced. The same applies for Mandela. Look up one of his speeches, and you’ll be entranced. Gandhi was a bit more soft-spoken, but his words still carried immense truths.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of leader a country has, just as long as he’s truthful, prudent and objective. Right now, everyone for the Palestinian cause wants to be a leader. We have the PA who’s trying to regulate issues amongst its own people, and who diligently try to negotiate with Israel. And then there’s Hamas, which imposes harsh prison sentences for crimes such as marijuana. While Hamas and the PA have bettered their relationship, it stands that no progress for the Palestinians has really been made.

In fact, many Palestinians resent the PA, viewing them as Israel’s puppet. Either way, neither of these parties feature a illustrious leader. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, is older and fatigued. He doesn’t have the ardor required to surmount Israel’s oppression.

Palestinians are lost, and rightfully so. Despair is the only thing that meets them daily. They’re exasperated. They’re hopeless. They’re tired eyes come face-to-face with walls of injustice and the barrels of guns. Any way they turn, no answers can be found.

But a leader can change that. A real, true trusted leader. Not Arafat, who was the first to extend his hand toward Yitzhak Rabin. And not Abbas, who’s been a leader for many years but hasn’t changed much. We need a Palestinian leader like Gandhi. We need a Palestinian spokesperson like Dr. King. We need a Palestinian activist like Mandela. These three were on the battlefronts. They weren’t hiding behind the doors of their posh homes with comfort and peace. They weren’t hiding behind cameras and promising future bliss and prosperity. They weren’t disregarding the people’s cries and yielding so easily.

They were risking themselves. They were imprisoned, battered and ridiculed. But they were successful, and that’s what everyone remembers the most.

When history shines, it isn’t the bad that’s highlighted. It’s all the moments of bravery and triumph that surpass all else. And until the Palestinians get a formidable, committed leader, their history won’t shine with that victorious light other oppressed groups obtained.

When Palestine comes up in restaurant

What I imagined was going to be a fine evening with a good friend for her birthday ended up reverting back to Palestine and the occupation.

Now, I know it sounds crazy. In a dimly lit, cramped restaurant, with waitresses flying around and serving multiple tables at once, who’d expect a conversation about Palestine? I certainly didn’t. As I was sitting across from my lady friend, a gentleman and his family were not even a foot away from us. The tables were, to describe it bluntly, uncomfortably close. If I extended my arm, I would have knocked him in the shoulder. Talk about needing some personal space. Anyway, this peculiar gentleman began joking with my friend and I. It started off as small talk.

“I guess that’s my hint to leave you alone,” he said, as I was speaking to our waitress about changing our order.

“You’re okay. I would have said something,” I replied. But then I felt bad. Most of the time, I view our world as cold and unrelenting. I don’t want to be the person that shatters another’s kindness with indifference. I want to be someone who encourages others to go out into this world, shake hands with people of different races, and invite them over to learn more.

So I apologized.

“I’m sorry, sir! I hope I didn’t come off as rude while you were speaking and joking with us. I was just busy ordering our food.” I tried softened the mood.

“No, no! You’re fine, man. My wife always yells at me for talking too much.”

We laughed. It was a friendly engagement. It was me trying to spread kindness (the way I always do), and him enjoying the pleasantries. His family members’ eyes lit up as they chuckled and enjoyed the conversation.

Then the interesting part happened. He spoke about falafel. Ah, my Palestinian pride roared within me. We always love it when others indulge in our culture. It’s a reminder that we’re not fading. We’re here to stay, and our legacies are cemented in this world.

“Falafel?! That stuff’s awesome! We are the originators!” My voice rose with joy.

“Oh, you guys are Middle Eastern?!” He asked.

“Yeah — Palestinian!” I blurt, my gratification urging me on.

He said it was cool. I didn’t think anything of it. Then, he told me how his daughter was going to school in Israel. Ah, that rival word. My insides dropped and I clenched my jaw in surprise.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you guys from?” my curiosity compelled me.

“Well, we’re Canadian, but we’re Jewish.”

As he admitted his faith, I could feel he and his family’s disquiet. It was a weight that now sat on my back. I felt like they were watching my every move, expecting to see glimpses of hatred and disgust in my eyes. But I showed neither, mainly because I didn’t feel it.

I told him, “That’s cool, and it’s nice to have a good conversation with him, because back home, that doesn’t happen often.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” he said. “We need peace. All we want is the war to end.”

I agreed. But I had to throw in the fact that I’m against the occupation. I told him that it wasn’t right for people to be deprived of basic human rights, and how despicable Israeli treatment is towards Palestinians who want to return or visit family.

“Yeah, but it’s also hard for the people there (referring to the Israelis) who live in fear.”

“Yeah, but what do you expect? You know you wouldn’t stand by if someone was telling you your wife and kids couldn’t have decent drinking water and access to hospitals.”

He agreed. He still tried a bit more with the whole “Israel is defending itself” slogan, and that’s when I told him to check the statistics.

“Look for yourself. Don’t believe me. But there is a huge difference in Israel’s kill ratio of Palestinians than how many Palestinians kill Israelis.”

He agreed and said he’s seen them. And then, he concluded the argument. “Well, I hate to be rude, but this cheesecake’s getting cold, so I’m gonna get back to that. It was nice talking to you.”

And then I realized something. We don’t have to be at the Israeli checkpoints to demand change. We can do it right here. And it starts by raising our voices.  By simply spreading knowledge and speaking whenever we can, we’re creating awareness about the Palestinian struggle. It can be done for any injustice. I’d be willing to bet my statements pained that man with the truth. Maybe his daughter, who’s studying abroad there, will even be motivated enough to see what I’m saying.

The world won’t change overnight, but it can change one person at a time. History’s battles have faded, but the great words of its leaders and holy books are engraved in the minds of us all. If we use more words and less violence, our legacies and drive for self-determination will only grow that much stronger.

 

Mental health & our Arab community

Growing up in an Arab family is fun. There’s great food, noisy gatherings, and parties that are so wild you’d swear the world is ending.

But there also comes a distinct stubbornness. When you’re Arab, numerous expectations are placed upon you. In many cases, your choices of a career and significant other are heavily influenced. Defying your family isn’t really an option.

This subbornness is at its worst when it comes to mental health. While growing up, I’ve often heard my elders say that depression is “all in the head.” “Life is what you make it,” they say. Some of that is true. If you wake up thinking your day is going to be crummy, it probably will be. And if you wake up with ambition and go out there pushing and striving, you’re more likely to succeed. But it isn’t always that easy for everyone, especially when depression and anxiety are ravaging one’s mind.

Recently in Dearborn, a young man committed suicide. Surely some in the masses are outraged that his suicide was revealed for public consumption. Yeah, a family’s privacy is important, but shedding light upon a serious community matter is far more crucial. The Arab American News reported that this suicide was “the latest in almost a dozen reported suicides in the local Arab American community within the past two years.”

If we remain motionless while our friends and neighbors suffer silently, this issue will intensify. It’ll only be a matter of time until more triggers are pulled and more lives are ended. Families will be torn, questions will be left unanswered, and the same vicious cycle will reign.

Within the past year, numerous people took their own lives. One suicide is bad enough. More than one is heart-wrenching.

The biggest issue here is the Arab community’s stigmatization of mental health. If someone is depressed, it’s not okay to make him feel “crazy,” or like it’s all in her head. If someone’s dealing with anxiety, telling him to calm down and breathe isn’t a solution, either. If someone says she’s not feeling right, believe them. Do something. There’s no need to label suffering people as “crazy” or “craving attention.”

A wonderful remedy is a listening ear. Letting someone know you are there for him can be as effective as any medication. On the other hand, displaying dispassion and disbelief could cause irreparable harm.

Some of you reading this will be offended. Some will disagree and say I’m way off base. That’s OK. The truth is a monster we all run from.  But it can’t be escaped. It will find us all. And if we don’t act sooner, and with more care and compassion, it will continue to appear in the disheartening form of blood and tombstones.

 

Be Proud of Who You Are

In today’s society, all minorities are scrutinized. Walk into a room, and you’ll see a TV displaying a news anchorman disparaging Muslims as terrorists. Turn on a news radio station, and Donald Trump’s speech about building a wall to keep immigrants like Mexicans out of our country will be blaring.

We live in a world where diversity is becoming a terror. People distrust what they’re unfamiliar with. Fear is the first reaction. Rather than learning and embracing another’s culture, they shun it and follow what they’re told.

And the news makes it worse. Rather than being dedicated to peace and prosperity, the media chases dollars like a dog does its tail. This isn’t anything new, and it’s not bound to change anytime soon.

But that’s OK. The world’s injustices can’t change overnight, but we can change ourselves. And it starts with pride. The pride in who we are. Pride in the way we were raised. Pride in how we live our lives.

As a Palestinian American, I listen to fabrications about how Palestinians “never existed,” and how we’re a “invented” group of people. Lies like these are geared towards belittling our pride to the point where all of our determination is crushed. The worst part isn’t that people spread this nonsense. It’s that people actually believe it. Some even allow it to blind them from the atrocities inflicted upon Palestinians daily.

Of course, we’re not the only group to endure this. Blacks have to witness the news mostly reporting their crimes, rather than focusing on the good and remembering positive contributions by profound leaders like Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And Mexicans? Well, the media won’t tell you that they come to our country to work hard and provide for their families due to a terrible economy. But they will tell you how they’re supposedly taking your jobs.

It’s pretty sad how most are oblivious to the fact that we spend more on wars than on creating jobs and opportunities. But that’s besides the point. We can’t blame the world for it’s cruelties. We have to channel our energy into something different. Something positive. Something that starts with embracing who we are and what we have to offer.

For starters, I’m proud to be Palestinian. I love the way my culture influences me to treat others with respect and love. During a Debka (a traditional middle eastern dance), I stomp my foot into the ground with all of the Palestinian pride I can. Because I think it’s beautiful. Diversity in itself is beautiful. No matter how many falsified videos and articles I see disparaging my heritage, my pride remains strong.

And yours should, too. If you’re black, don’t let the media destroy your sense of belonging. Don’t let it cloud your thoughts of heroic people like Mandela and Dr. King. Don’t be afraid to go out into the world and be just as great as they were. If you’re Mexican, you’re not an illegal immigrant. At one point, we were all immigrants to this country. It doesn’t diminish the great culture you have. You’re more than what they say you are.

And so are all of you, no matter what background you claim. You’re special, and your purpose has something to offer this world. Losing sight of who you are happens. But you shouldn’t permanently forget your pride. All the greatness America has is founded upon immigrants’ sweat and efforts. Each one of us are contributors. The world tries to expunge our heritage from within us, but blood never disappears.

And if we hold our beliefs firm, our legacies won’t either.