A Canadian-born Jewish human rights activist who dedicated most of her life to helping Palestinians has disappeared after Hamas militants attacked Israel over the weekend.
Vivian Silver lives near the Gaza Strip in the Be’eri Kibbutz in southern Israel. After Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on Saturday, the 74-year-old hid at home and communicated with her son by telephone said CBC News. She wrote to him that the militants were in her house.
“She has a really great sense of humor, so we were joking up until that point,” Yonatan Zeigen, who lives in Tel Aviv, told CBC News’ Adrienne Arsenault. “We joked around and then said, ‘Okay, it’s time to stop joking,’ and just expressed our love for each other and that was it.”
More than 900 people have been killed in Israel in attacks by Hamas, the armed group that rules over the millions of Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Israeli military. Palestinian officials say more than 700 people have been killed in the isolated Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank since Israel launched massive retaliatory attacks backed by Western nations.
Many civilians are still missing as the death toll continues to rise. Hamas has claimed to have captured about 100 people and recently threatened to kill an Israeli civilian hostage if Israel attacks civilians in their homes in the Gaza Strip “without prior warning.”
Zeigen told CBC that he does not believe his mother is missing, but is either dead in her home or among the hostages brought to Gaza by Hamas. Authorities were reportedly still clearing the kibbutz of explosives and were unable to provide an update on Silver’s whereabouts.
Silver’s relatives have told the media that the Winnipeg native dedicated her life to ending the Israeli occupation and was valued by both Israelis and Palestinians as a force who fought for lasting, lasting peace.
“She is a woman of small stature, but in spirit she is a giant,” Zeigen said on CBC News. “She dedicated her life to working for peace. She came to Israel 50 years ago and shortly after [1973 Arab-Israeli War]which is kind of ironic, and since then she has only been involved in activities to end the occupation and resolve the conflict.”
Silver was the managing director of the Negev Institute for Peace and Development Strategies, an organization that describes itself as promoting a society in which Arabs and Jews can live together while preserving their respective identities and cultures. She and activist Amal Elsana Alh’jooj received the 2011 Victor J. Goldberg Peace Prize from the New York Institute for International Education for establishing a program to train and empower the local Bedouin community.
“I had to admit that after 40 years of peace activism, the left, of which I was proud to be a member, had failed to achieve its goal of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Silver said wrote in a 2018 blog post. “I decided I wasn’t going to do the same thing anymore, I had to find another way.”
Silver leads the group Women Wage Peace, an organization of thousands of Arab and Jewish women committed to ending Israeli occupation and establishing lasting peace in the region. She also volunteers with Road to Recovery, driving what human rights activists call sick Palestinians out of Gaza an open-air prison with almost no access to medical help – to Israeli hospitals.
“I spent a lot of time in Gaza until the outbreak of the second intifada. We have continued to work with organizations in the West Bank,” Silver wrote in her post. “That’s why it particularly annoys me when people claim: ‘We don’t have a partner on the other side!’ I personally know so many Palestinians who long for peace just as much as we do.”
Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian American who runs a travel company offering trips to the region, said NBC News that the lack of news of Silver’s whereabouts could be a sign that she is among the prisoners.
“I have spoken to Palestinians who feel completely devastated, as if a family member had been kidnapped,” Abu Sarah told the medium. “I hope that the people who took her with them realize who she is and what a beautiful person she is.”