Student profile: Raied Haj Yahya

September 07, 2014

A Palestinian from Israel, Raied Haj Yahya understands the cultural and political complexities experienced by minority groups.  Rather than avoiding points of difference, however, Haj Yahya has since high school nurtured a growing interest in promoting cross-cultural understanding as a means towards social justice.

Haj Yahya came to SFU two years ago as a recipient of the W. Ronald Heath International Entrance Scholarship.  He was already living in BC as he had spent his last two years of high school studying at Pearson College, a United World College school just outside Victoria that hosts 160 students from over 80 countries in an environment that promotes cross-cultural understanding.  His experiences at Pearson were formative in bringing his commitment to intercultural understanding to an international level, but the origins of this commitment began at home.

At fifteen, still living in Israel, Haj Yahya was a member of the national student council, representing students at different committees in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament: “One day I was invited by the Knesset as a student speaker, one of 21 students from across Israel, from different communities. I gave my speech on civic equality between the Palestinian and Jewish community in Israel.”  

The experience of speaking directly to the parliament’s general assembly prompted Haj Yahya to engage the public further, and shortly after his 2010 speech he began hosting the program “Young Mind” on Reshet Aleph of Kol Israel, the official Israel Broadcasting Authority.  He continues to host this program today during visits home.

As a radio host, Haj Yahya has covered a wide range of themes that focus on social and political issues; “my program sessions discuss various topics, and include bilingual education for both Arab and Jewish students in Israel, civic equality, Israeli academia, and Arab-Jewish partnerships”.

Haj Yahya recalls his episode on bilingual schools as an example of the potential for radio to publicly highlight instances of partnership, peace education, and tolerance in a conflicted society: “Bilingual schools are schools that have Palestinian and Israeli kids from Israel in the same school, they are very remarkable.  While I haven’t attended them, I think they provide a great environment that enhances understanding and tolerance despite the existing differences.”

Haj Yahya sees media as having the potential to host multiple, and perhaps conflicting views in conversation with the goal of broadening public knowledge. He explains, “one of my recent sessions was about academia in Israel.  I hosted a representative from the student union in Israel, alongside two professors, and a university official.  I like to diversify my interviewees, and have people from different backgrounds.”

During his studies at SFU in the School for International Studies, Haj Yahya has taken communications classes that have developed within him a stronger commitment to media as a tool to broaden public discourse.  As Haj Yahya sees it, “It’s been interesting to study critical communication theory and look at the actual way media works.  I think the media is a great tool to bring awareness to social issues as long as you have a balance of views represented there.  I think it’s very important to have that kind of balance in the media.”

When asked if he enjoys hosting, Haj Yahya replies, “Definitely, it’s an hour that I own on the Official Broadcasting Authority!  It’s such a privilege, to be honest, to be able to raise to the public sphere these intriguing discussions about contemporary affairs”

Not only focusing on media and communications, Haj Yahya has a passion for studying and understanding political conflict. During the summer semester of 2014 he held the Vice President Research Undergraduate Student Research Award and worked with an SFU professor in International Studies on transitional justice and judicial behaviour during conflict in Middle-Eastern countries. Haj Yahya’s other research interests include the intersection of religion and law, state-minority relations, and minority rights.

He also brings his spirit of community engagement to helping others, and now that he has entered his third year as an International Studies student, he is working as a Student Academic Advisor with Student Services. As for the future, Haj Yahya see many possibilities; “I have a few aims, but I am still undecided on the future, I’m trying to decide between academia and research, or media, or some kind of international NGO or public administration.”  “That’s what I’m looking at right now,“ he says with a smile, “there are still lots of things to explore!”