Friday, March 8, 2013

The Price for Peace

What is the price for peace? 
Wherever there is conflict, inevitably there is a breakdown in communication.  Simply put, the price for peace is understanding.
Perhaps nowhere is the need for understanding more pronounced or the cry for peace more desperate than in the Holy Land.  This cry ascends most fervently from the heart of Old Jerusalem, near the site of the ancient temple of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock.  To the west, Jews insert written prayers into rock crevices.  To the east, Muslims pray inside Al-Aqsa Mosque.  A massive and long-standing wall divides them. 
On the south side of the wall there is a bridge connecting the lower plaza to the temple mount.  Soon after I arrived in Israel, I had the opportunity to cross this bridge and to visit these sacred places.  On another occasion, my friends and I visited the town of Bethany in the West Bank.  Although it was encompassed by a large modern wall, we were able to enter the town by crawling through a hole in the cement. 
These walls, ancient and modern, are symbolic.  Stone upon stone, and drop by drop of cement, people were separated.  Barriers to communication are constructed in a similar manner.  Word upon word, and line by line, misunderstanding occurs.  Thus wrote the poet, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall”. (Robert Frost, Mending Wall)
Fortunately, many of the essential tools for building bridges of brotherhood and chiseling holes of hope work within the same medium: language.  Needless to say, language plays a crucial role in creating more peaceful associations between people, institutions, communities and nations.  One cannot come to a full appreciation of an individual, let alone a people, without a basic understanding of that person’s manner of thinking and speaking.  Conversely, an increased understanding of another’s language contributes immeasurably to the possibility of peace.
For example, my understanding of Israeli people grows in direct proportion to my diligence in studying the Hebrew language.  Likewise, my understanding of Arab people grows according to the effort I put forth in studying Arabic.  Moreover, immersion in a foreign language brings a deeper appreciation of one’s own language and heritage.       
The price for peace is understanding, and that is a price I cannot afford not to pay.