LANGUAGE AS THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE OTHER

By Heather Renetzky

(as part of our Stories of Inspiration series)

Elhanan Miller believes that language is the best way to begin to understand the other side. A Jewish Israeli who is now a journalist, Elhanan grew up in Jerusalem in what he calls a “liberal environment.”

Elhanan learned Arabic from an early age and felt that he was able to connect to the area he lived in on a deeper level. Through language, he has felt more “grounded” in the region and geographic area and hopes that others can feel the same. He  wishes that Arabic were taught at a better level in schools as that would make a variety of news outlets more accessible to Jews in Israel. In his eyes, this increased availability of information would help Jewish Israelis understand their neighbors better and work together  with their neighbors towards peace. He explained how simple and effective this method is:

“[Teaching Arabic] doesn’t cost you anything in terms of land or concessions; it’s something you can gain for free,” he said.

As a reporter on Arab and Palestinian affairs for the internet newspaper “The Times of Israel,” Elhanan is constantly using his Arabic skills to find out more and inform the public. He makes a concerted effort to bring many quotations into his articles in order to reflect the voices of the people he is writing about. In part, he said that this commitment to connecting with the people he works with derives from his participation in dialogue programs within ICCI.

“ICCI gave me a higher level of sensitivity to the emotional and religious aspects of the conflict. It’s not just numbers or facts; it’s people’s stories,” he said.

Elhanan also works towards understanding through his greater involvement in other ICCI programs. He is a member of Kodesh–a group of religious leaders, educators, community leaders,  academics and journalists– who get together to study texts, discuss contemporary issues, and take action. In addition, he has previously served as a Hebrew-Arabic-Hebrew translator for many of ICCI’s dialogue groups, especially those involving youth and young adults.  He also conducted several interviews for “All for Peace Radio” with graduates from ICCI dialogue and action programs.

“Just meeting on a personal level between Jews and Palestinian Arabs is important in and of itself,” he explained. “People live in very separate societies and it’s good to bring them together.”

According to Elhanan, peace is only possibility if  there is a grassroots effort to complement the political effort. In addition to literally understanding each other, Elhanan said that each side must legitimize the other’s narrative.

“There has to be an understanding of narratives—an acknowledgement that the others have a legitimate claim to the land, “As long as either side does not acknowledge the other’s legitimate claim to live here, I think the conflict will just be perpetuated.”

Heather Renetzky, a Core 18 Fellow interning at ICCI this summer, is finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Religious Studies from Macalester College.

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