Prominent Israeli-Canadian Peace Activist Assumed Kidnapped in Gaza

A founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Women Wage Peace movement and other peace organizations, Vivian Silver used to travel to Gaza frequently. In recent years she helped Palestinians in need of medical care in Israel. The last time she spoke to her family she was hiding behind a closet.

10 October 2023//

Among the estimated 150 Israelis believed to have been taken hostage to the Gaza Strip is the prominent Israeli-Canadian peace activist Vivian Silver.

A longtime member of Be’eri – a kibbutz on the Gaza border invaded by dozens of Hamas terrorists on Saturday morning and then again infiltrated the following day – Silver had volunteered for years to help Palestinian residents of Gaza in need of medical aid in Israel.

A slight woman with a pixie-style haircut, she was a familiar face and sought-out speaker at gatherings and forums dedicated to promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and an end to the occupation.

Silver, who had been widowed several years ago, lived alone in Be’eri. According to her son Yonatan Zeigen, she was last heard from Saturday morning at 11:07 a.m. Before that, she notified friends and family that she was hiding behind a closet in her safe room.

“First we spoke by phone, but then when we heard the gunshots getting closer, we decided it was best to move to text messaging,” he told Haaretz.

In his last message to his mother, Zeigen recounted, he wrote “I’m with you.”

“I feel you,” she responded.

Describing his mother as “a very resilient person,” he relayed that in their last phone conversation she joked that she had not brought a knife with her into the safe room. “For us, that was funny because my mom was such a pacifist,” he said.

Zeigen, who lives in Tel Aviv, had planned to come with his family to Be’eri for the weekend in order to spend the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah with his mother. “In our phone conversation, we both said how fortunate it was that I hadn’t come,” he relayed.

Silver’s other son Chen lives in Connecticut.

Zeigen said there were “indications” that his mother had been taken hostage but that he and the rest of the family had received no confirmation.

The 74-year-old grandmother, born in Winnipeg, immigrated to Israel 50 years ago with the Habonim-Dror Zionist youth movement, affiliated with the Israeli Labor Party. She was among a group of young North Americans who helped found Kibbutz Gezer in central Israel.

A group of Silver’s close friends, including other founding members of Gezer and leaders of the peacemaking organizations with which she was affiliated, mobilized on Sunday to help obtain information on her whereabouts. “We have not been told anything yet,” said Ken Bob, one of her longtime friends from Gezer.

Susie Lax, another longtime friend, relayed that she looked up to and admired Silver ever since she met her as a teenager on Gezer. “She has been a mentor to me, teaching me the importance of peace, humanity and reaching out to the other. Vivian is the consummate friend. She was the first person to comfort me when my father passed unexpectedly and has continued to be there for me in good times and bad.”

A grandmother of four, Silver moved from Gezer to Be’eri with her family in 1990 and has lived there ever since. She was a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Women Wage Peace movement, which was established in late 2014 after the last major war in Gaza.

Just a few days before her kibbutz was overrun by terrorists, Silver had participated in a march that Women Wage Peace holds each year during the Sukkot holiday.

In an interview with Haaretz six years ago, after yet another round of fighting between Israel and Gaza had ended in a truce, she said: “With what’s happening now, I think our message is more timely than ever. The only way to bring all this violence to an end is by negotiating a peace agreement. This cease-fire may last a few weeks or a few months, but until the two sides sit down and talk, it’s not going to be over.”

Silver was particularly active in promoting equality for the Bedouin communities in southern Israel, located not far from her own kibbutz. She served as the co-CEO – together with Amal al-Sana – of The Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation, which promotes shared society among Jews and Arabs in Israel and peacemaking efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Among her various volunteer activities over the years, Silver was an active member of Road to Recovery, an organization that helps transport patients from Gaza to hospitals in Israel so that they can receive proper medical care.

She had decided to immigrate to Israel after spending her junior year abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1974, a day after she completed her final exams at university in Canada, she boarded a one-way flight back to Israel.

In 1981, Silver founded a department promoting gender equality within the kibbutz movement, and she later served on the board of the New Israel Fund.

In 1998, she was appointed executive director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development in Beersheba. Until the outbreak of the second intifada in the early 2000s, she traveled to Gaza frequently as a participant in various people-to-people peacemaking initiatives.