Help me, I feel so helpless. My people are dying by the thousands over oil and land. The west treats us like savages. They dehumanize us. They treat us like we’re animals who should be grateful that we’re still alive. If we don’t give them what they want, they slaughter us.

This is not a hyperbole. This is what happened in Iraq in 2001, where I lost four uncles. They were innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of a war that was not theirs. I was too young and ignorant to speak then, but I have a responsibility to speak up now.

I grew up as an Iraqi refugee in America, nurtured by two cultures—my native Middle Eastern roots and the Western values of my adopted homeland. This duality grants me insight into bridging the rift between the West and the Arab peoples.

The current flare up of violence is heartbreaking. As of December 9th, over 17,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis have died. Aid agencies warn of an impending humanitarian catastrophe.

I cannot claim to fully understand the pain and loss endured on both sides over generations of conflict. Yet I believe most people fundamentally want the same basic needs – safety, dignity, community.

Externalizing the “enemy” as less than human makes violence more palatable, but this obscures our shared humanity.

Real change starts with seeing others as complex beings shaped by circumstance, not inherent evil. It continues by humanizing those different from us – listening to understand varied perspectives, building relationships not bounded by group identities.

Peace will come through reciprocal gestures of good faith, not force. By refusing to justify cruelty as self defense, by reaching out a hand in trust, by believing in the potential for growth. It will not be quick or easy after so much hurt – yet even small acts of courageous compassion can spur the first shoots of coexistence.

I urge all who feel powerless yet long for justice: be the voice of empathy when others spread fear. Foster connections where there were divides. Do not wait for leaders to act – be the leader, one interaction at a time. The alternative of apathy and hatred will only continue the cycles of violence. There is too much suffering at stake already.