A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

A Top Influential Arab American

By Mariam Aburdeineh, BA ’13 on December 16, 2021

Well before she became the director of communications at United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) USA, the American nonprofit that provides support for UNRWA’s programs for Palestine refugees, Laila Mokhiber, BA Global Affairs ’09, was a child holding protest signs in human rights demonstrations. Before then, her mother held her as a baby in the gallery of the U.S. Supreme Court, as her father argued to incorporate Arab Americans into the Civil Rights Act in 1987.

Laila Mokhiber

Laila Mokhiber. Provided by Laila Mokhiber

As an adult, the George Mason University alumna has made a name for herself. In 2020, she was named one of the top 40 influential Arab Americans under 40 by the Arab America Foundation.

“I was very humbled,” says Mokhiber of the recognition. “The work I do is a labor of love, and if this brings more attention to the cause that I work on…I’m pleased to have received this recognition.”

UNRWA USA raises awareness about the plight of Palestine refugees to support their humanitarian needs.

“We’re trying to create our own narrative around who Palestine refugees are and demystify what it means to be a refugee,” Mokhiber says. “I love being able to advocate for the people who I see as my sisters and brothers and being able to measure the impact.”

The nonprofit and its annual Gaza 5K fundraising run support UNRWA, mental health, and urgent assistance for those living in and around refugee camps, says Mokhiber, who leads a content team that helps tell their stories.

“To be that link and bring their stories to my fellow Americans, I see that as a great responsibility and duty,” she says. “Once you see what life under occupation looks like with your own eyes, you can’t ever stop speaking up or advocating about it.”

Mokhiber’s work has sent her to Gaza several times—a rare privilege for an Arab American, due to the area’s land, sea, and air blockade.

Laila Mokhiber surrounded by Palestinian children

Mokhiber talking with Palestinian children. Provided by Laila Mokhiber

Each time, she brings back stories and is inspired by Palestinians she meets who make an impact with nearly nothing and are resilient despite supplies not being allowed into Gaza. These individuals include a young man who built a 3D printer from recycled materials to print lifesaving tourniquets, and a young woman who engineered a way to turn rubble from bombed buildings into bricks to help families rebuild.

Mokhiber, who also co-hosts the Latitude Adjustment podcast, says she seeks to advocate for people who don’t have a platform to do so themselves. Her time at Mason, where she studied music and global affairs with a focus on the Middle East, continues to be influential.

“I had the great privilege of studying under Mason professors Bassam Haddad and Sumaiya Hamdani, and the context of the region that I learned from them is really helpful to navigate it and translate it to other people in my work today,” she says.

Mokhiber also stayed connected. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she hosted virtual music sessions with Haddad that raised tens of thousands of dollars for organizations like UNRWA USA.

“Laila is an exemplary conscientious force and human being,” Haddad says. “Her impact manifests in myriad ways, but the most powerful is the extent to which she empowers individuals and groups by bringing them together for good.”

The same was true on campus, where Mokhiber says she expanded her community in student organizations like the Arab Student Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

“I amplified what these organizations were doing as an outreach chair and did communications, which is how I ended up in my current line of work,” says Mokhiber, who also worked as an outreach and communications coordinator for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“I loved my days at Mason because it exposed me to a rich diversity of people and perspectives that encouraged my curiosity about the world and would have taken years of global travel to gain.”

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