Learning from Lucy: How Dialogue and Inclusion can Bridge Ethnic Gaps

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By: Suvrath Penmetcha, Carnegie Mellon University, Bus 2 On Thursday, April 7th, I had the privilege of listening to Lucy Aharish speak about her life experiences living as an Israeli Arab Muslim in Israel. She highlighted several key incidents that shaped her beliefs and what she stands for today. One of those events was when Lucy walked into high school and discovered graffiti saying that she was a dirty Arab Muslim who didn’t belong in the school. The graffiti went on for several weeks and eventually the school figured out it was Lucy’s best friend. The vice-principal called Lucy into the office and asked her if she wanted her friend expelled. Lucy chose to not expel her friend because she wanted her to face the consequences of her actions and have to live with the reality of seeing Lucy everyday in school.

Lucy’s actions show her grit and wherewithal to confront people who make insensitive remarks. This is the first step to having an open dialogue in which people own their opinions and articulate them instead of making anonymous remarks.

Thursday, April 7th also marked the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Before Lucy’s talk, I was at a forgiveness discussion, which included several Carnegie Mellon University Rwandan students who are on an exchange semester studying in Pittsburgh. They spoke about how there is still no open dialogue when talking about Tutsi, and Hutu ethnic labels. In fact, it is illegal to talk about ethnicity in public in Rwanda. However, most Rwandans know who are Hutu and Tutsi.

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It’s interesting to see the steps that Israel and Rwanda have taken towards reconciliation between their different ethnic groups. Both of them have an army service program where citizens serve their country and this has been an instrumental way to generate cohesiveness among the countries' people.

Furthermore, Lucy’s talk touched on the next steps Israel can take in facilitating dialogue between its various ethnic groups. One idea is to have a national service for Israeli Arab Muslims even though they can’t serve in the army. This would help Israeli Arab Muslims to serve their country and feel proud in doing so. Another idea was to have mandatory language classes of Hebrew and Arabic in both Israel and Palestine. By learning both languages, Hebrew or Arabic would no longer be the language of the “enemy”.

Lucy’s talk brought to the forefront some of the complexities between the different ethnic groups in Israel. It discussed a few small but significant ways to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians. Lastly, the talk urged the audience to start having open dialogue and to not be silent and allow a few extremists to write much of the narratives in the Middle East and around the world.

Suvrath is a Junior at Carnegie Mellon University studying Information Systems. On campus, Suvrath is heavily involved with Film Club and Project Rwanda, and Tartan Sports Analytics Club. In his free time, you can find Suvrath watching the latest Suits/Game of Thrones or playing fantasy football.