As soon as he learned that Hamas militants were launching attacks in Israel, Avital Brown sent a WhatsApp message to her friend Vivian Silver, a Canadian-born peace activist who lived near the Gaza Strip.
Within a minute, Silver, 74, responded from his home at Kibbutz Be’eri.
“There is absolute chaos here,” he wrote in Hebrew at 7:54 a.m. Saturday, according to text messages shared with NBC News. “Terrorists have infiltrated Be’eri. “There are shots and screams.”
Brown responded immediately but never received a response.
Silver is among those feared to have been killed there 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 society between Jews and Arabs, even going so far as to meet cancer-stricken Gaza residents at the border crossing and take them to Jerusalem for treatment.
The silver-haired grandmother is regarded on both sides of the border as an irrepressible force, according to those who know and work with her.
“I’ve spoken to Palestinians who feel completely devastated, like a family member has been taken away,” said Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian American who operates MEJDI Tours, which offers trips to Israel led by guides from both sides of the conflict. . .
“I hope the people who took her realize who she is and how beautiful she is,” Abu Sarah added.
While Abu Sarah and other friends and family do not know what exactly happened to Silver, the lack of news leads them to believe that she is among the Israeli captives in Gaza.
“No one has told us if the Israeli soldiers have arrived at her house yet,” her son Yonathan Zeigan told the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail. “So there is a possibility that she is dead there, inside. But as far as we know, she is in Gaza.”
Gershon Baskin, an activist who helped negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who Hamas took captive in 2006 and freed five years later, has known Silver for more than 30 years.
“She has many friends in Gaza and in the Bedouin community in Israel who, I am sure, want her to return safely to her family,” he said in a message to NBC News. “This is a great tragedy for his family and for all of us. I am sure that she will be there to help the other 100+ 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 first worked for a nonprofit 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 the local population. Bedouin Arab community.
She and her Arab partner in the effort, Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, received the 2011 Victor J. Goldberg Peace Prize from the New York-based Institute for International Education. The judges praised her “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 recognize that after 40 years of peace activism, the left, of which I was a proud member, had not achieved its goal of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he wrote in a 2018 blog post. ” “I decided that I wouldn’t do the same thing anymore, that I had to find another way.”
She became a leader of Women Wage 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 second Intifada broke out. We continue to work with organizations in the West Bank,” Silver wrote in the post. “That’s why it makes me especially angry when people say, ‘We don’t have any partners on the other side!’ “I personally know many Palestinians who yearn for peace no less than we do.”
In Canada, old friends in Canada see Silver as a model of activism and moral clarity.
“She is someone who has always, always worked for what she believes in, and believes in peace and a shared society in Israel,” said Lynne Mitchell, who met Silver at a B’nai B’rith Youth Organization event when There were 15 of them. “She went there for that purpose when she was very young and she has stayed true to that all her life.”
Silver is a widow and has two children, both of whom live in the United States. Her American husband died four years ago, her friends said.
Silver’s activism went beyond leading marches and rallies.
In addition to transporting Gaza residents to Israeli hospitals for cancer treatments, his friends said, he also traveled to the border to ensure that Arab workers working on his kibbutz were paid during the periods when they were prohibited entry into Israel.
Others working to promote peace in Israel see Silver as a “titan in our space,” said John Lyndon, executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a network of more than 160 Palestinian-Israeli organizations committed to peace. building peace from the grassroots.
“It’s easy to be leftist and pro-peace if you live in the north of Tel Aviv. She lives on the border with Gaza, right in the most difficult place for Israelis, where you can’t escape the reality of the conflict” , he claimed. she said. “And it’s not just about where she lives; it’s what she does every hour of every day. She’s walking the walk.”
An unknown number of Israeli soldiers and civilians were taken hostage by Hamas fighters who invaded Israel by land, sea and air on Saturday. to launch a surprise attack of astonishing range. More than 100 people have been found dead in the Silver kibbutz, according to the Israeli volunteer rescue organization ZAKA.
On Monday, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing said militants will kill a civilian hostage every time Israel attacks civilians in their homes in Gaza “without warning.”
Three days before the Hamas attack, Silver led a demonstration in Jerusalem where thousands of women – Jewish and Arab, secular and religious – marched shoulder to shoulder. Dignitaries from Israel, Finland and Ireland also attended, according to Women Wage Peace.
Brown, the woman who received Silver’s text message as the attack was unfolding, said she gave her fellow Women Wage Peace member a warm hug before saying goodbye.
Silver told him to go visit his kibbutz. It’s very quiet there, she said, according to Brown, who lives in Tel Aviv.
“I’m glad I hugged her on Wednesday,” Brown said. “And I definitely hope it’s not the last time she gets to hug her.”