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This weekend I had some discussion with a high-level member of an organization that focuses on reconciling differences between Israeli settlers and Israeli Arabs. Old feuds and resentments run deep. Who took whose land from whom? We can go back thousands of years trying to understand the roots of this conflict. The truth is that over millenia the vast majority of feuds, struggles and wars between all people everywhere are over territory and resources. It is part of our DNA to defend our territory and ensure not only our food supply but the future of our children and our clan. Xenophobia’s face is that of the cave dweller across the valley.

In my native South Africa the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission that for three years in the late 1990s tried to heal the wounds caused by apartheid atrocities for both the oppressed and the oppressor was a daily Greek theater played out on TV and radio across the land; a catalyst for airing the tragedies, the manifold tragedies of those years. The mighty, the all powerful, the members of the Security Police brought face-to-face with their accusers and humbled by the probing commissioners. Amnesty or no amnesty, a bad conscience set to rest, a death explained, some expiation of revenge. Thus far there is no similar commission anywhere that has attempted to tackle the root question of who took whose land from whom? White settlers with a four hundred year history of living in South Africa regard themselves as Africans born of African soil. And they are, but who took their land from them? History is a tangled knot.

There are so many well-meaning, well-trained mediators conducting grass-level interventions in so many conflict areas; to mention but a few,  Sunnis and Shia, Serbians and Bosnians, Hutis and Tutis, Israeli settlers and Israeli Arabs, Tibetans and Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis. These mediators do good work especially when they work with children to create a new narrative that bridges the differences of conflicting older stories. Then the children can believe, “This is the nownarrative of our land, this is ourstory. ”

A fundamental challenge for our time, as cyberspace  shrinks our planet, is how do we change the humanstory, the rigid mind structures of past eras? How do we  preserve the richness of cultures and traditions and learn to share the resources of the planet. Mother Teresa said, “Small steps with great love.”

Perhaps. But until we understand the fundamental truth that all conflict arises from a struggle for resources even small steps towards lasting reconciliation are unlikely. In North America the Water Resource Wars have already begun…how are we going to change our mind-structures to accommodate this story?


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