In memory of Vivian Silver
Last Thursday, my wife and I attended the funeral of friend, colleague and peace activist Vivian Silver at Kibbutz Gezer in central Israel, along with over one thousand other friends, family and well-wishers. I dedicate this blog post to her.
Vivian was one of the pre-eminent peace activists in Israel in recent decades. Among other things, she was one of the founders of Women Wage Peace, which was founded in 2014 after the last major war with Hamas, and is now the largest peace organization in Israel. She was also well-known for her work with AJCEEC, the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation, which she founded with a Bedouin woman from the Negev named, Amal Elasana Alh’jooj. In other words, she was involved with Palestinians both within the borders of Israel and on “the other side” for much of her adult life in Israel.
Vivian was a true socialist humanist Zionist of the old-fashioned kind. In 1974, she made aliyah with a group of young people as part of the Habonim Dror (Labor Zionist) youth movement and then she lived in Kibbutz Gezer for 16 years. She was the first woman to be the Secretary (community leader) of the kibbutz and later she was active in bringing feminism and women’s rights to the attention of the kibbutz movement. Afterwards, she moved with her husband and two sons to Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel, on the border with the Gaza strip, where she lived until she was brutally murdered in the massacres in communities in southern Israel on that Black Saturday of October 7th, 2023. For several weeks, it was assumed that she had been kidnapped by the Hamas terrorists to Gaza, but last week her death was confirmed by forensic experts in Israel.
Her funeral at Kibbutz Gezer was a very sad yet inspirational moment. In addition to her two sons and her brother and some Jewish friends, she was also eulogized by three Muslim Palestinian citizens of Israel, who worked with her in various capacities and knew her well. The most eloquent of them was a Muslim woman from Acre named Ghadir Hani, who spoke of Vivian in this way:
Vivian, my beloved, if you could hear, I would want you to know: Hamas did not murder your vision….You taught us the most important lesson: to be human, to see the other, the weak, the one whose voice is not heard.
Hani also said about Vivian:
She believed in the end of this cursed conflict and that people in Gaza and in the Gaza envelope inside of Israel deserved to live in peace.
Since last Thursday, I have been thinking about her remarks. They have haunted me. Did Hamas murder Vivian’s vision for peace between Palestinians and Israelis? Or perhaps paradoxically this war– which follows upon the murderous attacks of innocent civilians at Kibbutz Be’eri and other communities in the south of Israel on October 7th– will somehow lead to a restart of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians when it is over?
In my last blog post, I wrote about the American and NY Times columnists’ ideas for peace. There has been a lot of talk about “the day after” in the Israeli and American media lately, as if this war is going to end soon, with a clear-cut ending, with Hamas being completely destroyed and dismantled and a new administrative body will arise in the Gaza strip, with international support. This refers to the political/diplomatic efforts for peace.
But what about all the peacebuilding organizations that exist in Israel and internationally? Will they keep going? Will they sustain Vivian’s vision for peace?
At least one peace activist who spoke at Vivian’s funeral responded in the affirmative.
We promise you Vivian, we will continue your path even stronger and braver,” said Avital Brown of Women Wage Peace. Brown promised to “continue to work with our Palestinian partners and the global community of women”.
Also, Vivian’s friend Ghadir Hani, in remembering Vivian’s optimism, recalled that in the moments when everyone else gave up, she was a source of optimism.
You, who were there under every rocket, who knew the rounds of war better than any of us, continued to believe, to know that there is no other way, that ‘We cannot accept operations and war, which only bring killing, as the norm.’ You knew that it doesn’t matter if we speak Hebrew or Arabic, it doesn’t matter if we were born in the Gaza border or the Gaza Strip – you knew that our futures and the fate of the residents of Gaza are tied together; that people who live mere kilometers from you also deserve a better life. Across the fence, you saw human beings.
I would add that despair and detachment are not viable alternatives. As difficult as the situation is now, there is always room for hope, for a renewed vision for peace, for acts of reconciliation and rebuilding. Perhaps Israel will take a lead in rebuilding Gaza after the war, in providing humanitarian aid, in building trust for the future. Wouldn’t that be a good idea (even preferable to more wars and violence)?
War is not the only option. This war will end soon too, like all the other wars. After it is over, it will be a time for a new diplomatic-political process, for recommitting to peace, with new leadership to arise in Israel soon (to replace the irresponsible and incompetent leadership we have now), which will commit itself and its new centrist coalition to pursue peace responsibly and realistically, for the security and sensibility of both Israelis and Palestinians alike. This could be done during the next five years, especially if the American people wake up and re-elect President Biden for four more years, a development which will be essential for America, Israel, Palestine and the rest of the world. Together, America and Israel –and the Palestinians—could embark on a new era of peace negotiations, to finally try to prevent future wars. Wouldn’t that be a better scenario that a constant cycle of endless wars?