From Fish to People: On Mothers, Women &… War

At 29 years old, I moved to the US to do my M.A. in counseling at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, ‘slightly’ shifting my career interests and path from fish and oceanography to psychology, psychotherapy and counseling. Within psychology I was interested in learning about the healing process for individuals, couples, families, communities and cultures. Initially I was intrigued by the psychology of peace and violence on all levels from the individual to the cultural. I was interested in the roots of war and the prerequisites of peace and explored a variety of theories on these topics. I was especially intrigued with how men and women co-participated in the making of war, or what I called “The role of women in the making of war”, and similarly how parents and their young adult children co-created war systems. (Later, I expanded these interests into thinking about the tensions between life, love, and mortality.)

“Trees Die Erect” – Mother Parted Exactly as She Planned

I continued my work, exploring the roots of war and promoting peace, which led me to literature that discussed the meaning of the fact that the average frequency of war is 25 years, which corresponds to the span of a generation. The theory posited the puzzling and odd idea that war may be the unconscious wish and impulse of parents to kill their children, or what is also known as the Medea Complex. I asked my mother her thoughts on this idea and did not hear back from her for a couple of months. Then one day, I got a package from her with probably all the available literature on this obscure topic. She noted that compiling this literature was one of the most difficult challenges she had ever faced. That was the last correspondence I had from her as she died soon after from her second heart attack in November 1982 at age 68. Mother repeatedly told us that she neither wanted to slow down in old age nor have a prolonged death. So on her gravestone we engraved her own words -“Trees Die Erect”.

One never to slow down
An intellectual giant
A loving mother
A questioning soul
Who didn’t wish to linger too long between life and death, 
between sunshine and shade
So on her gravestone we wrote the words
“Trees Die Erect”

Understanding Peace in the Shadow of War: The Roots of Enmity

From 1984 to 1991, alongside my friend and colleague, philosopher-author Sam Keen, I devoted my professional life to promoting peace by deepening the public understanding of the complex psychology of peace and war, as well as the roots of enmity. During these final and challenging years of the Cold War, I gave dozens of presentations and media appearances across the US on such subjects as: Gender and War, The Psychology of Peace and War, Understanding the Light of Peace in the Shadow of War, and Psychology of the Nuclear Age.

Presenting in Moscow on War Propaganda

In 1987, I was honored to be invited with my friend and colleague, Sam Keen, to Moscow, Russia for a symposium on “Soviet-American Images: A New Perspective,” organized by the Soviet Peace Committee and the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue. Our guest appearances included working sessions with scientists from the USSR Academy of Science. These were exciting times in Russia – the early years of Perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev’s political reforms. An interesting part of the trip was Kris Kristofferson and his crew was part of our group, where he performed the first rock concert in the history of Russia.

The Delight of Becoming Step-Father and Father

With my first marriage in 1981, I became a step-parent to my step-children, Suzannah and Jeremy. Soon after (1983), our daughter, Azzia, was born which marked one of my most profound inner shifts; my sense of self was expanded and, obviously, my sense of responsibility for my daughter’s and step-children’s growth and well-being.

Wind-Surfing in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

I met my first wife in orientation to our doctorate program in psychology. We spent our honeymoon in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, where I learned wind-surfing. We also visited the lovely island of Isla Mujeres, fascinating ancient sites in Talum, touristic Cancun Island, and Cozumel.

Getting my Ph.D. – Studying the “Love of Hating”

In 1984, at 34 years old, I received my Ph.D. from the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA. My dissertation centered on the dynamics of how men and women view and co-create warfare, and called sharply into question the almost universal belief that only men are inherently warlike, while women are inherently peace-loving. Subsequently, in a paper, “The Love of Hating”, I refuted another faulty belief – that war has no intrinsic appeal and is only a necessary evil or last resort – and explored the conscious and unconscious attractions of war.

A time of immense pride
To explore unquestionable beliefs 
Of war and peace
Shade and sunlight 
Perhaps in the shadows
The truth would lie

 I’d embark
On my lifelong quest
To examine the faulty notion
That men were mainly warlike
While women were capable of only peaceful actions

“If You Kill Yourself, I Will Kill You!”

During graduate school, I worked as a forensic psychologist in one of the most dangerous county jails in the country.  It was crowded, noisy and short-staffed. Often, I had to make suicide assessments in only 1 minute through a jail-cell door’s pothole.  Putting an inmate on suicide watch was not a decision I made lightly because it meant that the prisoner would be checked upon (and if asleep, woken up) about every 15-30 minutes.  This level of sleep interruption can cause someone to become suicidal, even if he/she had not been suicidal prior to being placed on the suicide watch list.  

After I realized that I didn’t have 30 minutes to conduct a thorough suicide assessment, nor could I sit with them face to face in a private office, I developed a 20-30 second interview to determine whether an inmate should be placed on suicide watch. This included 3 questions: 1. What is your name?  2. Why are you in jail? and 3. Are you suicidal?  If the person clearly stated they were suicidal I placed them on suicide watch.  

However, if the person stated that he/she was not suicidal, but I doubted whether they were coherent, oriented, or truthful, I would say, “I will not put you on suicide watch, but if you kill yourself, I will kill you!”  I would then wait to observe their response.  If they realized how crazy the statement was and told their roommate something like “The doctor is crazy,” I was more likely not to put them on suicide watch.  However, if they responded back to me with “Doctor, you cannot do that to me,” I knew that their judgment was probably impaired and I placed them on suicide watch.

Marrying Azzia’s Ballet Teacher and Being Blessed w/ 2 Boys

In 1988, I was single again and moved to the beautiful town of Sonoma, CA where Azzia went to school and rode her horses. These were special years where Sam Keen, who had moved to Sonoma a year earlier, worked with me on men’s themes and peace and war issues. Even more special was that, at Azzia’s ‘insistence’ :-), I started dating her ballet teacher, Jennifer, and later, in 1992, I married her. We had two boys, Eitan, born in 1992, and Ilan, born in 1995, and are still married, all these 30+ years later.

On Being a ‘Barn-Mother’: Azzia and Her Love of Horses

Azzia, my first born (1983), besides her love of reading and ballet, enjoyed and became skillful in horseback riding and jumping. Later, she graduated from UC Berkeley in philosophy, became an excellent writer and editor, and has established herself in many ways, including as a Sensei, in an Aikido dojo in Berkeley, CA.

Introducing my Boys to Basketball, Motorcycles & Doing Good

Supporting my children as they developed their unique identities, interests, and gifts has been one of my life’s greatest joys. I have had the fun of sharing the love of basketball, motorcycles and adventures with my two sons, Eitan and Ilan. Later in life, Eitan developed the love of swing dance and trapeze arts. Ilan, who I have had the chance to coach, has come to excel in his academic studies, his pursuit of justice causes, leadership, and basketball. But more about them later…

Re-Thinking “Don’t Blame the Victim”

In the mid 1990’s, I took on debunking the myth that all victims are always innocent and invited people to re-think the then prevalent belief in the dictum, “Don’t Blame the Victim.” While some victims are truly innocent (e.g., abused children) others thrive on being victims. The victim’s stance is a powerful one and was erroneously framed as: The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy. That perception has since changed to some degree, I am pleased to say.

Kayaking Magical Kauai’s 17 Miles at the Na Pali Coast

Another boundary to be experienced was the Na Pali coast in Kauai, Hawaii, which is considered “the Everest of sea kayaking”. My son, Eitan, who was only 12 at the time, and I went on a demanding, 17 mile kayak trip, where the cusp of the Mammoth Mountains slopes into the ocean. It was an incredible day with breathtaking 2,000 foot sea cliffs, cool lava-formed sea caves and mile-high waterfalls plummeting into the blue Pacific.

On the beautiful Na Pali coast in Kauai, Hawaii
Kayaking with my precious son
Mountains, like gentle giants, hung over our heads
As our oars cut through sun-kissed waves
And we marveled at sea cliffs and caves in this nautical realm

The Delight of Spending Quality Time with my Kids

Spending time with my children in nature has been uniquely rewarding as it combines adventure, physical and emotional challenges, reliance on self and others, and, of course, connection and fun. In this picture, my boys and I are on a lovely ride in Annadel State Park. Engaging with my young children in fun, but at times also challenging, experiences not only created memoriable experiences but also enhanced our closeness and mutual respect.

Spending time on bicycles
Against a splash of blue sky
Serene scenes unfold of
Grasses and water
underneath soft pale clouds
Our trek together
Our closeness felt forever
In the stillness of nature
By ties of family, friendship and fun

Paragliding with Fearless & Adventurous Eitan (11)

Eitan has always been adventurous. Here he is at age 11, fearlessly joining me (the first time for both of us) paragliding in tandem off Sonoma Mountain. And there was another mountain in our future: It was with Eitan that I summited Mount Kilimanjaro 2007, as we shall see. In later years, Eitan pursued skydiving, catcher in trapeze, commanding sailboats and scuba-diving, worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and much more.

Playing College Ball at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem

Basketball, as mentioned, has been my sport. I have played basketball since the age of 10 and later coached. I love the intensity, mastery, camaraderie, as well as the strategic, competitive, physical, mental, and social aspects of the game. I played in leagues in Israel, college ball at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and in the Jack Benny League in Sonoma (over age 39). I retired from playing at age 56, but always find other ways to keep active.

Basketball: The chess of athletics
Dribbling a ball and strategizing
How to pass an opponent
With a deft spin
A look to a teammate
A masterful pass
The flicker of a wrist
A swoosh sound
As the basketball sails through the net

Flatlined for 90 Seconds – Disappointedly Did NOT See God

In the millenial year of 2000, I suffered my first heart attack and cardiac arrest at the age of 50 (100% occlusions of LCA) and crossed the boundary of life and death (flatlined) for 90+ seconds. I remain disappointed that I neither saw a white light nor God, a truly wasted opportunity. With a stent in place, I have increased my focus on my “bucket list”. In that same year, my father died, but unlike my mother, he went slowly at the ripe old age of 84.

In an instant of course
Life can change,
Sands stop running through
An hourglass, my hourglass
My life suspended
Each day meant more than the day before
A new journey
A thirst for adventure
A new appreciation
A life reborn, made anew.

An Israeli Palestinian Solution is possible. 2023-2024

By an Israeli lieutenant & paratrooper who served in Gaza & left Israel for moral reasons

 

Competing historical ‘claims’ of who was first, Moses or Allah or who owns what, Muslims or Jews or who is ‘holier” should NOT be part of the current ‘cease fire’ negotiation. Israel gets its 1948 territory and the Palestinians get the entire West Bank (settlers are out) and Gaza (Hamas and all).

The biggest challenge and the real question for what is happening in the Middle East, Gaza and Israel these days, Oct. 2023 is to acknowledge the deep hatred on both sides and how to live next to each other, reluctantly accepting co-existence with each other.

I am Ofer Zur, a psychologist, an enmity and war expert, and a former lieutenant and paratrooper in the Israeli army who was wounded in the 1973 war.  I was born in Israel in 1950, and during my military service, was stationed in a refugee camp in Gaza back in 1970.  This experience led me to the conviction that I had to leave Israel, which I did. (See: I Was Her, Out-Of-Body Experience, On Leaving Israel).

I am watching with horror and deep sadness what is happening in Israel and Gaza since Oct. 7, 2023. Israel bombing Gaza and killing thousands of civilians (post 10/7/2023) does NOT eradicate Hamas, it gives it much MORE strength and popularity.

Knowing the region and the complexities of its people, I am proposing a solution for the situation. The main challenge for Israelis and Palestinians is, how to live or have a ceasefire with an enemy who wants to destroy you.

Here are my views and a long-term peace proposal for the region:

  1. Israel does NOT have a vote about whether, or not the Palestinians, including Hamas want to destroy it. The biggest challenge for Israelies would be how to live next to a hostile country bent on their destruction.
  2. Israelis should and must give the Palestinians their own state. No more occupation!!!!! No more hateful settlers!!! Unarmed-peaceful-respectful settlers can stay in the West Bank ONLY if they surrender and accept the Palestinian rule and full control of the West Bank, i.e. Palestine.
  3. A Palestinian state will include the West Bank and Gaza. They will be connected via tunnel, bridge or train – by appropriate means, satisfactory to both sides. The main reason for this is simply self-preservation for Israel. “Occupation destroys the occupier.” Gaza will have its own sea-port and both, West Bank and Gaza will have their own international airports. Some optimistically, but not very realistically, suggest, that in exchange to giving the Palestinians their own state, they will de-militarized both Gaza and West Bank.
  4. Israel with its superb military capacities CAN protect itself if it chooses to, (not make it ridiculously easy, as it did on Oct. 7, 2023).
  5. The hope is that in 2-3 generations (Yes, 2-3 generations, not 2-3 weeks or 2-3 months or even years), the situation will de-escalate, Israel will be forgiven, and incentive on both sides, for cooperation will have developed.
  6. Not much different that the Protestant and Cathelic in Ireland 1968 to 1998  30 years conflict. And hopefully similarly to how one of the worst conflict in human history between the Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda where nearly one million, primarily Tutsi were killed was peacefully resolved. If Israel fully give the West Bank to the Palestinians it is likely to be a similar to the current situation between India and Pakistan that arose out of the 1947 partition of British India, which established a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a Hindu-majority India. They currently co-exist with tension and highly militarized border. Although both countries have maintained a fragile cease-fire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border. Both sides accuse the other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in response to attacks. Fences make good neighbors! Israel may end up with friendly relationship with Palestine they way Israel has very friendly relationships with Jordan and Israel or may be more similar to the India and Pakistan tense but rather stable relationships. Either way is much better and more fair and more just of the current 1967-2023 situation.

The big-picture view and perspective:

Getting the 500,000+ religious settlers out of the West Bank is not easy but definitely doable because: They have no economic base – $ comes from outside. They have light weapons but are not highly trained in using them. They cannot really fend for themselves. They rely on the Israeli army to keep the highly guarded exclusive roads to Israel open. So it is doable to force them out from the West Bank (AKA, Palestine).

In the same way that Israel lives with its enemy relationships in the north, Lebanon and Syria, so will it learn to live with a hostile Palestine.

They bomb Israel, Israel bombs back. Then, in a couple of generations there will be peace, similar to Israel’s current peaceful relationships with Jordan, Egypt and… growing peace with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

I am hopeful…

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