A Canadian woman who has spent decades in the peace movement, forging close ties with moderates in Gaza, is missing and is presumed to have been abducted from her Kibbutz Be’eri home when Hamas terrorists invaded on Oct. 7.
Vivian Silver, 74, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, made aliyah in 1974. She moved to Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza Strip with her late husband and two sons, 33 years ago.
Lynne and Michael Mitchell first met Silver when they were all teenagers and members of BBYO in Winnipeg. They have stayed close over the years, visiting each other often.
Silver was on the phone with her sister on the morning of Oct. 7, telling her that Hamas terrorists were at her door and outside her safe room, Michael Mitchell said in an interview with The CJN.
“There was screaming and yelling and Vivian was fighting and then the phone went dead,” he said. “So, it’s pretty clear that they got to her one way or another.”
Silver’s kidnapping has not been confirmed, but she has not been found among the wounded in hospital or identified among the dead, Mitchell said.
“We’re very much hoping and believing that she’s still alive and that somehow this will work out,” Michael Mitchell said.
“And that all that she has tried to accomplish in her life, all her mitzvot, will stand her in good stead and keep her safe,” added Lynne Mitchell, her voice cracking with emotion.
Silver has been involved as a leader with Jewish organizations since her BBYO days, the couple said.
“She has a million friends. There’s just a huge network of people who love her,” Michael Mitchell said. “It’s just a factor of wherever she’s gone in her life, she’s spread this sense of community and love and humanity.”
In 1998, Silver became the executive director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, an NGO based in Beersheva, dedicated to promoting shared society between Jews and Arabs.
She worked extensively with the Bedouin community in Israel and in Gaza. The kibbutz was training Gaza residents on business development and professional seminars, Michael Mitchell recalled.
Silver also organized Friday afternoon meetings between the kibbutz members, who would gather in a field to speak on the phone with Palestinians in Gaza.
For several years, Silver was in charge of building construction on the kibbutz, which employed Arab workers. Once, when the workers were not permitted to enter Israel, Silver drove to the border crossing to ensure they received the wages owed to them, Michael Mitchell recalled.
In recent years, she also volunteered to meet Gaza residents who were cancer patients at the border crossing and drive them to Jerusalem for treatment.
In 2014, Silver retired, became a grandmother for the first time and engaged in some soul-searching, she wrote in a blog post in 2018.
“I had to acknowledge 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 became deeply involved in Women Wage Peace, a grassroots effort that united women from diverse Israeli communities to lobby politicians for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
“I have basically lived and breathed the movement night and day,” Silver wrote. “Living on the border of the Gaza Strip is a compelling factor for me. I am driven by the intense desire for security and a life of mutual respect and freedom for both our peoples.
“The thought of yet another war drives me mad. Like the last three, it will not solve the conflict. It will only bring more dead and wounded.”
The Mitchells visited Silver often. Before the second intifada they all visited one of Silver’s colleagues who lived in Gaza. He greeted them warmly and drove them around, they recall.
“There was co-operation between the PLO and some Israeli organizations and she (Silver) was in the forefront of that,” Michael Mitchell said.
That co-operation vanished once Hamas took over, he said. “It was a world that almost was, that might have been.”
The Mitchells saw Silver most recently in May, when they visited her on Be’eri. At first, it looked like they might not connect, Silver was part of an evacuation because of missile fire, but the evacuation order was lifted and she returned to the kibbutz to host her friends.
The Mitchells recall that the kibbutz did not seem to have much security, not even a guard at the front gate and the residents all left their doors unlocked.
Lynne Mitchell last spoke to her friend a week ago. Silver is a doting grandparent and the two women, who both have five-year-old granddaughters, discussed their girls who are both “drama queens,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s hard to believe it was a just week ago that we spoke, completely oblivious to what the future holds.”