Joint nature conservation efforts may be able to bring some peace in the Middle East as well as other regions and communities.
In spite of ethnic, cultural, religious, and political differences, a desire for conserving natural resources can serve as a common ground for communities in conflict. After all, nature knows no boundaries. Nations in conflict with each other may find that they have more in common than they thought.
35 years ago, Yossi Leshem, one of the study's authors, noticed something interesting about Israeli farmers. Leshem noticed that the farmers were using poison to kill rodents destroying their crops. However, the poison was killing birds preying on the rodents as well.
Years passed before Leshem and Tel Aviv University convinced the Israeli government to ban the use of this poison. As an alternative to pesticide, the farmers were encouraged to build nests for barn owls. Barn owl pairs can produce 11 offspring a year, and each barn owl can kill thousands of rodents a year. Thus, nature took its course.
Another thing that Leshem and his colleagues noticed was that Jordanian and Palestinian farmers were facing the same problem as well. The issue was regional, not local. The scientists thus created a project that required people from these three nations to work together. They thus found a common ground amidst all their differences. Leshem can remember times that people involved in the project even visited each other's places of worship. In a region that sees conflict along religious divides, this is quite remarkable.
This kind of unity came about because these different groups of people were working towards a single goal. It shows that nature is a great equalizer. When people are dealing with nature, social differences fade into the background. These differences are still there, of course, but they're not quite as important as achieving that single goal. In fact, the project went on despite instances of conflict in the region.
Leshem drew upon his experiences with the project to contribute to the study on how to achieve peace in the Middle East through nature conservation efforts. "Unexpected ideas, such as working scientifically with barn owls, can be the source of great inspiration for issues that are far bigger than our scientific questions," said Alexandre Roulin, the lead author. This study suggests that cooperation in nature conservation can take an ambitious step toward the signing of a peace treaty.
There have been many ruminations on how peace in the Middle East can be achieved. Of course, there are many considerations to take into account when working towards a lasting peace. However, the barn owl project has shown that working with nature can encourage people to set their differences aside.
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