As soon as I heard that Hamas militants were launching attacks in Israel, Avital Brown She sent a WhatsApp message to her friend Vivian Silver, a Canadian-born peace activist who lives near the Gaza Strip.
In less than a minute, Silver, 74, responded from her home on Kibbutz Be’eri.
“It’s absolute chaos here,” she wrote in Hebrew at 7:54 a.m. Saturday, according to text messages shared with NBC News. “Terrorists have infiltrated my well. “There is shooting and screaming.”
Brown responded immediately but heard no response.
Silver is among the people feared to have been killed on the spot or kidnapped by militants and taken to Gaza, a place she knows well.
For nearly 50 years, Silver has worked to improve the plight of Palestinians and create a shared community between Jews and Arabs, having gone so far as to meet Gazans with cancer at the border crossing and take them to Jerusalem for treatment.
The silver-haired grandmother is seen on both sides of the border as an irrepressible force, according to those who know and work with her.
“I’ve talked to Palestinians who feel completely devastated, as if a family member has been kidnapped,” said Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian-American who runs MEJDI Tours, which offers trips to Israel led by guides from both sides of the conflict. .
Abu Sarah added: “I hope the people who took her realize who she is and how beautiful she is.”
While Abu Sarah and other friends and family members don’t know exactly what happened to Silver, the lack of news leads them to believe she is among the female Israeli captives in Gaza.
“No one has told us whether Israeli soldiers have arrived at her house yet,” her son Yonatan Zegen said. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. “So there is a possibility that she is dead there, inside. But from what we have gathered, she is in Gaza.”
Zegen told NBC News on Tuesday morning that authorities were still clearing the kibbutz of explosives and he had not yet heard from his mother.
Gershon Baskin, the activist who helped negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006 and released five years later, has known Silver for more than 30 years.
“She has many friends in Gaza and in the Bedouin community in Israel, and I am sure they would want her safely returned to her family,” he said in a message to NBC News. “This is a huge tragedy for her family and for all of us. I am sure she will be there to help more than 100 other hostages, and I have no doubt that her captors will have great respect for her.
Silver, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, moved to Israel in 1974.
She initially worked for a non-profit organization dedicated to social justice and gender equality. Years later, in 1998, she became executive director of the Negev Institute for Peace and Development Strategies, where she launched an initiative to train and empower local residents. Arab Bedouin community.
She and her Arab partner in this effort, Amal Al-Sanea Al-Hajjouj, received the Victor J. The 2011 Goldberg Peace Prize from the Institute of International Education in New York. The judges praised their “efforts to promote peace and development within society.”
In early 2014, she retired, became a grandmother, and found herself in a period of soul-searching.
“I had to admit that after 40 years of peace activism, the left, of which I was a proud member, had not succeeded in achieving its goal of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” she wrote in a 2018 essay. Blog post. “I decided I wasn’t going to do the same thing anymore, I had to find another way.”
She became the leader of Women Make Peace, a grassroots organization made up of thousands of Arab and Jewish women seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I spent a lot of time in Gaza until the outbreak of the Second Intifada. We continued to work with organizations in the West Bank,” Silver wrote in the post. “This is why it especially angers me when people claim: ‘We don’t have a partner on the other side!’” I personally know a lot “From Palestinians who yearn for peace just like us.”
Back home, old friends in Canada see Silver as a model of activism and moral clarity.
“She is someone who has always worked for what she believes in, and believes in peace and shared community in Israel,” said Lynn Mitchell, who met Silver at a B’nai B’rith Youth Organization event when they were 7 years old. 15. “She went there for that purpose when she was very young and stayed true to that all her life.”
Silver is a widow with two adult sons. Her friends said that her American husband died four years ago.
Silver’s activism has gone beyond leading marches and rallies.
In addition to transporting Gazans to Israeli hospitals for cancer treatment, her friends said, she also traveled to the border to make sure Arab workers working on her kibbutz received their salaries during periods when they were banned from entering Israel.
Others who work to promote peace in Israel consider Silver “a giant in our field,” said John Lyndon, executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a network of more than 160 Israeli-Palestinian organizations working on grassroots peacebuilding.
“It’s easy to be left-wing and pro-peace if you live north of Tel Aviv. It’s on the Gaza border, in the hardest place for Israelis, where you can’t escape the reality of conflict.” “And it’s not just where you live,” he said, “it’s what you do every hour of every day. It’s walking the walk.”
An unknown number of Israeli soldiers and civilians were taken hostage by Hamas fighters who streamed into Israel by land, sea and air on Saturday. To launch a surprise attack that is stunning in scope. More than 100 people were discovered dead on Kibbutz Silver, according to the Israeli volunteer rescue organization ZAKA.
A spokesman for Hamas’ military wing said on Monday that militants would kill one civilian hostage every time Israel targeted civilians in their homes in Gaza “without warning.”
Three days before the Hamas attack, Silver led a march in Jerusalem where thousands of women — Jews and Arabs, secular and religious — walked side by side. Prominent figures from Israel, Finland and Ireland also attended, according to the NBC website. Women make peace.
Brown, the woman who received the text from Silver while the attack was taking place, said she gave her fellow Women Wage Peace member a warm hug before they said goodbye.
Silver asked her to come visit her kibbutz. She said the situation is very calm there, according to Brown, who lives in Tel Aviv.
“I’m glad I got to hug her on Wednesday,” Brown said. “And I sure hope this isn’t the last time I hug her.”
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”