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Home > Palestinian Americans

Short profiles of accomplished Palestinian Americans follow. If you are a journalist and would like to interview anyone listed below, please contact the IMEU at 714-368-0300 or

Dr. Ahmed Abukhater: Author, Business Executive, and Record-setting Athlete

An environmentalist and athlete, Palestinian American Dr. Ahmed Abukhater grew up with a desire to fix the inequalities in Gaza, one of the most dangerous being the water supply. Dr. Abukhater's new book, Water as a Catalyst for Peace - Transboundary Water Management and Conflict Resolution, will be published on August 15, 2013. 

Hany Abu-Assad: Filmmaker

For award-winning Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, cinema serves as a tool of resistance. From escaping to the cinema as a child to his own 2006 Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated film Paradise Now, Abu-Assad has utilized film as a means of exploring different manifestations of oppression. 

Tareq Abboushi: Musician and composer

Musician and composer Tareq Abboushi grew up around music but didn't plan on it being his livelihood. "My mother is a piano teacher, so I've been interested in music since I was a kid, but never really thought that it would be a career," he explains. "I just played the piano - it was a hobby more than anything else. When I first went to college, I studied advertising. Later on, it became clear that music was what I wanted to pursue." 

Lila Abu-Lughod: Professor and author

Professor Lila Abu-Lughod's most recent work is the seminal book: Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Edited with Ahmad H. Sa'di, it focuses on Palestinian memory and the experience of expulsion. It was published by Columbia University Press in April 2007. "Although all my own anthropological fieldwork over the last 30 years has been in Egypt, my chapter in the book is about my father's return to Palestine after 40 years," she says. 

Lama Abu-Odeh: Professor and author

Lama Abu-Odeh is an accomplished scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center as well as at the university's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Before joining the Georgetown faculty in 1999, she taught at Stanford Law School. Abu-Odeh has written extensively on Islamic Law. "My approach is to complexify the situation of women in Islam so that the stereotypes about them do not hold," she says. 

Nasser Abufarha: Social entrepreneur and scholar

Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) founder Nasser Abufarha is bringing Palestinian olive oil and other traditional delicacies to mainstream American and European markets, while also improving economic conditions for farmers in the West Bank. "At first the farmers were skeptical," Abufarha says, "They couldn't imagine why anyone would pay them above the market price. But they were willing to give it a try." 

Susan Abulhawa: Novelist and humanitarian

By day, award-winning author and Palestinian American Susan Abulhawa is a science writer for medical journals. Her real passion, however, is literature. After spending four years writing "early mornings, at night, on the weekends, any spare time I could find," her debut novel Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury Press, 2010) was born. The book, which Publishers Weekly calls "richly detailed, beautiful and resonant," gives unique voice to four generations of a Palestinian family. 

Ali Abunimah: Commentator and author

Ali Abunimah likes to solve problems. Concerned about accurate reporting on Palestine, Abunimah co-founded, in 2001 a popular website devoted to fair coverage of the region. He has also become a frequent media commentator. Now, Abunimah is proposing a solution to one of the seemingly most intractable conflicts of the century. In October 2006, Abunimah's book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, was released by Metropolitan Books. 

Paul Ajlouny: Publisher and businessman

Businessman Bulus (Paul) Ajlouny is a US Navy veteran and former publisher of Jerusalem's renowned daily newspaper, Al-Fajr. Born in Ramallah, Palestine in 1933, Ajlouny immigrated to the United States in 1946, where he subsequently received an Engineering degree from the University of Kentucky. Ajlouny is the former Vice President and General Manager of Kinney Mechanical Maintenance, where he held responsibility for the maintenance of the World Trade Center, two Port Authority buildings, and other large-scale complexes. 

Laila Al-Marayati: Doctor and humanitarian

Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a former Presidential appointee and Director of Women's Health at a large community health center in California. Born in 1962 and raised in a Palestinian family in Los Angeles, she ran her own gynecological practice for 11 years after earning her medical degree from UC-Irvine and receiving specialty training in gynecology at Los Angeles County USC Women's Hospital. 

Naseer Aruri: Professor and author

Naseer Aruri is the Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where he taught from 1965 to 1998. Along with his prominent scholastic post, he has held several significant positions both in and outside of government. Born in Jerusalem, Aruri came to the U.S. in 1954. 

Khaldoun Baghdadi: Lawyer and human rights commissioner

Khaldoun Baghdadi is a prominent Palestinian-American attorney and Chairman of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Born in Amman, Jordan in 1973, Baghdadi grew up in Orange County, California. He was awarded a fellowship to study at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank while earning his undergraduate degree from UC Irvine. 

Sam Bahour: Businessman and entrepreneur

Sam Bahour is far from your typical successful businessperson. Born in Ohio in 1964 to a Palestinian father and Lebanese-American mother, Bahour visited Palestine every summer. After graduating from Youngstown State University in 1989 with a degree in computer technology, he worked for several software development firms. 

Ibtisam Barakat: Writer, poet and educator

Born in Beit Hanina, near Jerusalem, Ibtisam Barakat's life was turned upside down at age three, when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem following the 1967 war. "I will never know what my life would have been like without having grown up under Israeli occupation," says writer, poet and educator Barakat. "This influenced me in every way. And it made me sensitive to all the issues of injustice that exist in the world." 

Rawia Bishara: Chef and culinary artist

Palestinian-American chef and proprietor of the Brooklyn-based Middle Eastern restaurant Tanoreen, Rawia Bishara's culinary creations have been praised by some of the most respected food critics in New York City. Infused with the aroma of nine different spices imported regularly from her hometown of Nazareth, Tanoreen was chosen as New York Magazine's Critic's Pick and has been featured in The New York Times, The Village Voice and the Zagat Survey, among many others. 

Charlie Bisharat: Violinist and recording artist

Grammy Award-winning violinist and recording artist Charlie Bisharat was well on his way to a career in medicine when he received a phone call that changed his life. "Those ambitions fizzled," he says when the new age group Shadowfax asked Bisharat to play with them in South America. Bisharat joined the group in 1988. They won a Grammy for Best New Age Performance that year for Folksongs for a Nuclear Village

George Bisharat: Professor and commentator

Moved by the actions of progressive lawyers while he was growing up, accomplished Palestinian-American law professor and prominent Middle East commentator George Bisharat decided to pursue a career in law. "I was going to school at a time when lawyers were very active in the anti-war and civil rights movements," explains Bisharat. "I was inspired to follow in the footsteps of those fighting for social justice." 

John Bisharat: Composer and conductor

When the crew of the film One Night With the King - featuring the first pairing of Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif since Lawrence of Arabia - was looking for a musical score with Middle Eastern flavor, they turned to Palestinian-American composer John Bisharat. "It meant a lot to me to score a piece of film with Omar Sharif on screen," Bisharat says. 

Diana Buttu: Lawyer and analyst

As a child, Diana Buttu did not even know she was Palestinian. Ironically, years later she would become the well-known spokesperson of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Negotiations Support Unit. Born and raised in Canada, Buttu's parents - who were Palestinian citizens of Israel - did not discuss their Palestinian identity. 

Cherien Dabis: Filmmaker and producer

Award-winning Palestinian-American filmmaker Cherien Dabis was named one of Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch" in 2009. Her debut feature film - Amreeka - premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and is the first fiction feature to be acquired for theatrical distribution by National Geographic Entertainment. 

Jamal Dajani: Producer and commentator

Jamal Dajani spends most of his time watching TV. As the Director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV, and winner of the prestigious Peabody Award, he is responsible for shows that reach up to 27 million satellite TV subscribers in the United States. Dajani was born and raised in Jerusalem. In 1975, his parents sent him to the U.S. to study engineering at Columbia University. 

Omar Dajani: Professor and former negotiator

Law professor and former Palestinian negotiator and UN advisor Omar Dajani first became interested in the law in college. "I was fascinated by both legal theory and the way in which the law was unresponsive to the needs of the disenfranchised, yet had great potential to be a tool for vindicating their rights," he explains. 

Karam Dana: Professor and author

Palestinian-American professor and author Karam Dana is the co-principal investigator of the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS), the largest survey of Muslims living in the United States. Troubled by rising Islamophobia and the lack of reliable information about American Muslims, Dana launched MAPOS in 2007 to study the patterns of social, civic, and political participation among Muslim Americans. 

Beshara Doumani: Professor and author

UC Berkeley History professor and respected author Beshara Doumani focuses on "recovering the history of social groups, places, and time periods that have been silenced or erased by conventional scholarship on the modern Middle East." He has also played a leadership role in defending academic freedom since 9/11. 

Hanna Eady: Actor and playwright

Hanna Eady is founder of the New Image Theater Company in Seattle and has been writing, performing, and directing plays since he was 14 years old. Born in 1956 in the Palestinian village of Buqa'ya, in the Upper Galilee, he became interested in theater as a child because there was little else that provided entertainment. "We didn't even have electricity or running water. So we would look for books with stories in them that we could perform." 

Hashem El-Serag: Doctor and researcher

Pioneering Palestinian-American medical researcher Dr. Hashem El-Serag is a groundbreaking researcher in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and the hepatitis C virus. El-Serag has published more than 120 scholarly papers and his studies on HCC constitute nearly all the literature on the disease in the United States. 

Sharif S. Elmusa: Poet and environmental scholar

For Palestinian-American poet and environmental scholar Sharif S. Elmusa, writing poetry is not just an art. It is what he describes as the "continuous exercise of an existential need." A self-described poet from birth and first-generation Palestinian refugee, Elmusa recently published the first collection of his poetic works, Flawed Landscape: Poems 1987-2008

Fareed Fareed: Doctor and professor

New York physician and Columbia assistant professor Fareed Nabiel Fareed has always been moved by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." That, and his parents' advice that "he was so good at science he should be a doctor," led him to become one of the youngest board-certified faculty members at Columbia Medical School. 

Morad Fareed: Athlete and entrepreneur

Palestinian-American entrepreneur and soccer player Morad Fareed acted on his dreams in a very public way. He appeared prominently in the acclaimed 2006 documentary Goal Dreams, which captures the aspirations and experiences of the first Palestinian national soccer team. When Fareed learned that a Palestinian national soccer team was being assembled to attempt to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, he jumped at the opportunity to join the team. 

Elena Farsakh: Photographer

Palestinian-American photographer Elena Farsakh believes that "90 percent of all communication has nothing to do with words." Through her lens, she strives to give insight into the daily conditions and emotions of people in faraway and sometimes misunderstood places. Her portfolio features work from Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, and Morocco, and her pictures appear in Samih Farsoun's seminal work Culture and Customs of the Palestinians. 

Ibrahim Fawal: Author and professor

Dr. Ibrahim Fawal is a retired filmmaker, film professor and author of the award-winning historic novel On the Hills of God. Fawal, born in 1933, has long been a driven man. Seared into his consciousness at the young age of 15 was the 1948 image of Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes in the newly-declared state of Israel streaming into his hometown of Ramallah, in the West Bank. 

Jess Ghannam: Professor and community leader

The son of Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes when Israel was established in 1948, Dr. Jess Ghannam was "born into politics." Extraordinarily accomplished in the academic world, Ghannam is a clinical professor and the Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. He also practices at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Suheir Hammad: Poet and author

Poetry has always been a big part of Suheir Hammad's life. Born in 1973, Hammad was raised in a culture where the Quran was considered to be God's epic poem. "As a child I had this sense that God was a huge poet," she said. "We can all be part of this larger narrative because of the scripture." Hammad combined her cultural beliefs with the hip-hop influences of her hometown of Brooklyn to become a celebrated poet, including performances on HBO's Def Poetry Jam.  

Muna Handal-Dayeh: Businesswoman and community leader

Though she was only six months old when she and her family left Palestine, business owner and Bethlehem Association President Muna Handal-Dayeh has maintained a strong link with her homeland. "I have always felt a deep connection to my heritage. Being a strong Bethlehemite family, we always had a proud history and stories," she says. 

Nathalie Handal: Poet and playwright

Along with being an award-winning poet, Palestinian-American Nathalie Handal is a playwright, writer, editor, literary critic and teacher - and loves all of it. "I'm passionate about everything," she says, "otherwise, why do it?" 

Basil M. Hantash: Doctor and cancer researcher

At the Stanford University School of Medicine, Palestinian-American physician-scientist Basil M. Hantash is overseeing a team of researchers working on nothing less than a stem cell-based cure for bloodborne cancers. This cure could be ready for application in humans in as little as 3-5 years. "We're creating a universal donor adult stem cell," says Hantash "and the implications for bloodborne cancer sufferers could be enormous. 

Nadia Hijab: Analyst and author

Throughout her career, Nadia Hijab has been a tireless advocate for justice and human rights. Born in Syria to Palestinian Arab parents, Hijab grew up in Lebanon, earning her B.A. and M.A. in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. While at school, she also worked as a journalist, until she left for Qatar and then England in 1975, as the Lebanese civil war intensified. 

Annemarie Jacir: Artist and filmmaker

Palestinian-American filmmaker Annemarie Jacir directed the first Palestinian short film, like twenty impossibles, that became an official Competition selection at Cannes International Film Festival. It subsequently won 13 awards at festivals around the world. Jacir is a recipient of the Zaki Gordan Award for Excellence in Screenwriting and was selected for the Sundance Screenwriter's Lab. 

Emily Jacir: Artist

Leading Palestinian-American artist Emily Jacir says, "When I was growing up, art was the one place where I could speak." Jacir's complex and creative engagement of serious issues has been met with much acclaim. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout the world since 1994, including at the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2008, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation nominated Jacir as one of six finalists for the biannual Hugo Boss Prize. 

Samir Jadallah: Venture capitalist and mentor

Venture capitalist and former Microsoft executive Samir Jadallah didn't stumble into a great job after graduating from Case Western University. Instead, the search held some surprising challenges. "I looked for a job for six months and found nothing," he says. Finally, a recruiter reviewed his resume and made one suggestion. "Why don't you drop the 'ir' at the end of your name and just apply as 'Sam'?" The offers started coming in almost immediately. 

Jennifer Jajeh: Actor and filmmaker

Actor and filmmaker Jennifer Jajeh uses her art to inspire audiences to contemplate new ways of seeing the world. Born in San Francisco, she has acted since childhood. "I was the kid who always made my family gather around the living room to watch my latest production," Jajeh says. Her new one-woman show, "I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I'm Afraid to Tell You," will debut at the New York International Fringe Festival in August. 

Fady Joudah: Doctor and poet

When he was seven, Fady Joudah proclaimed his intention to become a doctor. "I remember telling my mom while we were watching TV," Joudah recalls. "I said, 'When I grow up I'm going to be a doctor and buy a big house and have all my family in it and take care of all of you when you get sick.'" Now a physician, humanitarian worker and poet, Joudah has dedicated his life to serving the human family. 

Aron Kader: Comedian and actor

The son of a Palestinian father and a Mormon mother, Aron Kader does not have to look far for inspiration for his standup comedy. The actor and comedian grew up in Washington D.C. and moved to Hollywood at 19, and has appeared on Comedy Central's Premium Blend and the police drama The Shield. He also filmed a television pilot for NBC called Beverly Hills SUV. Kader is known for his ability to comment on serious issues in the Arab world while still getting a laugh.  

Kanaan Kanaan: Artist and mentor

Palestinian-American artist Kanaan Kanaan is a skilled painter and graphic designer who incorporates the two art forms to create the vivid, colorful tiles for which he has become known. Kanaan has showcased his work in 43 exhibitions and festivals nationally and internationally. His latest work, "Isholnak?" is a colorful piece which translates as "What's your color?" The piece is meant to "show the different colors, or sides, of the Arab culture politically, socially, and mentally." 

Remi Kanazi: Poet and teacher

Palestinian-American poet and teacher Remi Kanazi never imagined that spoken word poetry would be his life's calling. Yet when faced with growing misconceptions about Arabs in post-September 11th America, he felt an unavoidable urge to express himself. Kanazi began writing political commentary in 2001, and after attending Def Poetry Jam on Broadway in 2004, his "eyes were opened to poetry and the platform it provided," Kanazi says. 

Rami Kashou: Fashion designer and entrepreneur

Up-and-coming fashion designer Rami Kashou was a finalist on Bravo's hit show Project Runway and his dresses have draped Hollywood celebrities Penelope Cruz, Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Alba among other starlets. Kashou's work has been featured in tens of magazines including Elle, Vogue, In Style, The New York Times Magazine, and Flaunt. He has been honored by The Make a Wish Foundation, LA Fashion Awards, Seeds of Peace, and the Los Angeles City Council. 

Mujid S. Kazimi: Preeminent nuclear engineer

Mujid S. Kazimi is a leading nuclear engineer. As the Director of the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems and the Tokyo Electric Power Company Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he educates future scientists, conducts vital research, and has served on various government committees. 

Rashid Khalidi: Professor and author

Widely published and frequently featured in the media, Rashid Khalidi is one of America's preeminent Middle East scholars. He is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and the Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. He is also President of the American Committee on Jerusalem and is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Palestine Studies

Yousef Khanfar: Photographer and writer

The award-winning Palestinian-American writer and photographer Yousef Khanfar is listed as one of the world's top photographers. He initially used photography to find his voice - literally. "I did not speak when I was a little boy," Khanfar explains. "A doctor suggested I get involved in something to help me express myself. My dad had a camera, so he took me to the sand dunes of Kuwait and showed me how to photograph. At age six, it was like magic to see those pictures." 

Zahi Khouri: Businessman and entrepreneur

Zahi Khouri believes in the power of business and brand names to build peace. "When the first McDonald's opened in Russia, it made more headlines than people going to the moon," he said. In 1995, this Palestinian-American businessman left a comfortable life spent between Manhattan and Orlando to make his own headlines in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Palestine. 

Mousa Kraish: Actor and director

Palestinian-American Mousa Kraish, a Hollywood actor, refuses the numerous "terrorist" roles for which he is approached. Ironically enough, however, he began his career as a member of Black September in Steven Spielberg's Munich. "The Munich role opened my eyes to how important it is for the film to show both sides of the story. Now I decide what to take based on that quality and not the type of role," Kraish explains. 

Lisa Suhair Majaj: Poet and scholar

Widely-published Palestinian-American poet and scholar Lisa Suhair Majaj was captivated by poetry at a young age. "I wrote poems for the school magazine as early as second grade," she says. "I remember the excitement of discovering that words could convey both visual images and feelings, and that they could take on substance on the page." 

Saree Makdisi: Professor and commentator

Saree Makdisi, professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, comes from a family of leading academics and intellectuals. His grandfather, Anis, taught Arabic literature at the American University of Beirut while his father, Samir, currently teaches economics there. His mother, Jean Said Makdisi, also used to teach but is now an independent scholar. Saree Makdisi is also the nephew of the late Edward Said.  

Ussama Makdisi: Professor and author

Rice University professor Ussama Makdisi works to provide a historically accurate answer to one of the most vexing questions of our time: "Why do they hate us?" As the first holder of Rice's Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair in Arabic Studies and an Associate Professor of History, Makdisi explores the history and roots of anti-American thought in the Arab world. 

Salwa Mikdadi: Curator and publisher

For more than two decades, Palestinian-American art curator Salwa Mikdadi has been a driving force in the world of Arab art. Born in 1948 to Palestinian parents, Mikdadi split her time growing up between Kuwait and Jerusalem. She attended college at the American University of Beirut, where she came to know many Lebanese artists. In 1968 Mikdadi curated her first show featuring Palestinians artists in Beirut. 

Munir Nayfeh: Professor and researcher

Palestinian-American physicist Munir H. Nayfeh is breaking new scientific ground with innovative research in the area of silicon nanoparticles. These nanoparticles are creating the platform for diverse applications ranging from cancer treatment and diabetes monitoring to increasing the efficiency of light bulbs and solar panels. 

Naomi Shihab Nye: Poet and author

Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye knew she wanted to write even before she could use a pencil. "It was always part of my sensibility," she says. At age seven she submitted her first poem for publication, beginning a prolific and award-winning calling. Nye was born in St. Louis in 1952. Just four years earlier, her father and his family lost their home in Jerusalem following the establishment of the state of Israel. 

Dean Obeidallah: Comedian and producer

For Dean Obeidallah, comedy is about more than just making people laugh. "My comedy is very political," he says. "I try to make people think and challenge their views a little bit. But if you're not making them laugh, then you're just giving speeches." Born in 1969 in northern New Jersey, Obeidallah originally tried his hand at being a lawyer before moving on to comedy. 

Mazin Qumsiyeh: Scientist and author

Accomplished scientist and author Mazin Qumsiyeh nurtured a childhood fascination with nature into a successful career in medical genetics and an active lifelong commitment to human rights. "My care for the environment, for all creatures on earth," he says, "translated into my interest in human welfare." This care led him to a PhD in Biology at Texas Tech University and associate professorships in genetics at Duke and Yale universities. 

Hilary Rantisi: Program director and speaker

Palestinian-American Hilary Rantisi is Director of the Middle East Initiative at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She is also a frequent speaker on Palestinian issues and is active in promoting Palestinian art and culture. Rantisi was born in 1972 in East Jerusalem, but grew up in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "Growing up under occupation our life has always been politicized," she explains. 

Niveen Rasheed: Basketball star and student

For Niveen Rasheed, life mostly revolves around basketball. A star player of Princeton University women's basketball team, the Tigers, Niveen is considered one of the most successful basketball players in Ivy League history. "We made school history for the past three years in a row by winning the Ivy League and we made it to the first NCAA tournament in school history during my freshman year," recalls Rasheed who is co-captain of the team and has been named Ivy League Player of the Week 11 times during her career. 

Khaled Al Sabawi: Entrepreneur and geothermal pioneer

Named one of the world's top energy entrepreneurs by the Global Post, Khaled Al Sabawi is a leader in green energy and the first certified geothermal engineer in the Middle East. He is founder and president of MENA Geothermal, a Palestinian company specializing in geothermal heating and cooling systems. 

John Sabella: Agronomist and environmental expert

Agronomist and environmental consultant John Sabella is a visionary force within the sustainable agriculture movement. Sabella has worked worldwide to develop and teach farming systems that do not require harmful and expensive chemical inputs and that conserve soil and water quality to help improve food security. Sabella helps small farmers with limited resources seek their own solutions to their farming, environmental and social problems. 

Najla Said: Actor and playwright

Now an accomplished actor, it is hard to believe that as a child Najla Said was so shy she rarely spoke. But it was that very shyness that led her to acting. "My parents thought it might be a good idea to send me to acting classes," Said says. "At six or seven years old, I started taking classes after school and never stopped." 

George Salem: Former Solicitor of Labor

George Salem is a prominent lawyer, a former Solicitor of Labor and a high-profile Republican Party activist. Ironically, he almost ended up as a dentist. "I had been programmed from infancy to be a dentist," Salem explains. "But I decided I wanted to follow the opportunities and blaze new trails for Palestinian Americans." 

Jackie Salloum: Artist and filmmaker

Jackie Salloum became a filmmaker almost by accident. One day, Salloum was propelled into action after hearing an interview with Israeli artist Udi Aloni on a New York City radio station. The artist played music by a Palestinian hip hop group, named DAM, on the radio. "I was so moved and inspired by these young voices that I wanted to do something with their music," she says. 

Reyad Sawafta: Inventor and nuclear physicist

Palestinian-American inventor and nuclear scientist Dr. Reyad Sawafta is founder and Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina-based QuarTek Corporation, a nanotechnology company that Sawafta describes as "a company dedicated to introducing innovations for the benefit of mankind." One such innovation is the creation of products that use nanotechnology to provide safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities by converting contaminated water into drinkable water in minutes. 

Lena Seikaly: Jazz and classical vocalist

Award-winning vocalist and composer Lena Seikaly is a rising star in the world of music. As a jazz singer, Seikaly has her own trio, quartet and quintet, and is a vocalist for several bands of varying jazz styles in the Washington, D.C. area. She has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Strathmore, Blues Alley and numerous other D.C. venues. Lifetime Achievement Award-winning jazz journalist Doug Ramsey praised Seikaly's most recent album, "Written in the Stars." 

Simon Shaheen: Musician and composer

Grammy Award-nominated musician and composer Simon Shaheen has been wowing audiences of thousands since he was five years old. Shaheen's fusion of traditional Arabic, classical Western, Latin American, and jazz is nothing short of "stunning" according to the Los Angeles Times and has earned Shaheen the prestigious National Heritage Award at the White House. A virtuoso on the 'oud and violin, Shaheen leads the fusion group Qantara and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble which performs traditional Arabic music.  

Betty Shamieh: Playwright and actor

Betty Shamieh is a screenwriter, actor and author of 15 plays. The San Francisco Bay Area native grew up steeped in the culture of the local Palestinian-American community. This served as the inspiration for her first play "One Arabian Night." The play was a finalist in the under-18 Young Playwrights Festival. Shamieh's work is known for addressing women's issues and "the struggle with being good Arab girls." 

Farouk Shami: Businessman and innovator

As a child in the Palestinian village of Beit Ur, Farouk Systems founder and chairman Farouk Shami helped his mother make dyes from local plants and vegetables. Today, he runs a leading hair care and spa products company. Houston, Texas-based Farouk Systems earns roughly $1 billion in revenue and employs more than 2,000 Americans. Loyal users of Farouk products include celebrities like Madonna, Renee Zellweger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Cox, and Demi Moore. 

Deema Shehabi: Poet and editor

Acclaimed Palestinian-American poet and editor Deema Shehabi aspires to offer poetry that is both aesthetically crafted and that tells the Palestinian narrative. "People have a tendency to dehumanize one another," Shehabi says. "The Palestinian experience provides a vastness and a broad context that can reaffirm our human values because it constantly challenges narrowly constructed notions of nationalism, patriotism, and the like." 

Michel Shehadeh: Director and community leader

Executive Director of the Arab Film Festival Michel Shehadeh has lived a life many might think only exists in the movies. Born in Amman, Jordan in 1956 and raised in Bir Zeit, Palestine, he came to America in 1975 to attend university. One early morning in 1987, federal agents burst into his Long Beach, California home and arrested him as his three-year-old son watched and wept. 

Nida Sinnokrot: Artist and filmmaker

Award-winning filmmaker and installation artist Nida Sinnokrot's unique style is very much informed by his past. In Algeria, where Sinnokrot was raised, he explains, "Not only did my mother speak a combination of Arabic and broken English, but the community's Algerian dialect and French complicated my linguistic landscape. I never felt compelled to settle for one tongue. I spoke a hybrid, personal language." 

Sammy Totah: Rapper and poet

Sammy Totah has been rapping on stage with Grammy Award winning performer Carlos Santana, and his son Salvador, since he was still in high school. Born and raised in San Francisco, Totah's Palestinian father and Mexican-American mother gave him a culturally diverse introduction to music and the arts. When he was just seven Totah began writing poetry to fill a creative urge and to articulate his feelings.  

Mary Tuma: Artist and professor

Palestinian-American artist and art professor Mary Tuma has exhibited her work throughout the United States and in Palestine. Born in Oakland, CA in 1961, her interest in art began with her mother teaching her how to sew. "Growing up, my mom taught me to crochet and embroider," explains Tuma. "I was good at it, but I didn't think I could be an artist. I thought that was something geniuses did." 

John van Aalst: Professor and surgeon

John A. van Aalst, Assistant Professor of Surgery and Director of Pediatric and Craniofacial Plastic Surgery at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, can pinpoint the exact moment he decided to become a doctor. "I was teaching English in Jerusalem at the Anglican School for boys in the mid-1980s," he explains, "and I saw a young man stabbed in the back. I wanted to help, but as an English teacher there was nothing I could do. This incident is what inspired my decision to go to medical school." 

Nizar Wattad: Rapper and producer

A drive on the backstreets of Tennessee changed Nizar Wattad's life. It was then that the young Palestinian American learned his brother was harboring the same secret he was. They both enjoyed freestyle rapping. The hip-hop trio called the Philistines - featuring Wattad (Ragtop), his younger brother B-Dub and their colleague Cookie Jar - emerged out of that car ride. 

Maysoon Zayid: Actor and comedian

At first glance, it would not appear that Maysoon Zayid has much to laugh about. But the Palestinian-American Muslim actor-cum-comedian with cerebral palsy has been steadily making a name for herself, performing standup comedy nationwide as well as overseas. Born in New Jersey in 1976, Zayid is a woman of firsts. She is America's first Muslim woman comedian and the first person ever to perform standup in Palestine and Jordan. 

Waleed Zuaiter: Actor and producer

On and off Broadway, Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter's performances have consistently met with critical acclaim. Most notably, Zuaiter has starred in David Greig's The American Pilot at the Manhattan Theatre Club and played opposite Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in Mother Courage at the Public Theater. 

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