Vivian Silver was a universally admired Israeli peace activist who advocated for Palestinian rights. She was murdered by Hamas during the massacre of her kibbutz, Be’eri, on 7 October. Amal Elsana Alh’jooj , a Bedouin Palestinian Israeli feminist, peace activist and community organiser who worked closely with Vivian for a quarter of a century, writes in memory of her friend.
Our 25-year friendship is something from the realm of the extraordinary. In our dynamic as co-executive directors of AJEEC (The Arab Jewish Centre for Equality, Empowerment, and Cooperation), Vivian was the practical one. I was the one with the big ideas. She used to say, ‘I don’t want to chase you,’ and she’d urge me to slow down. But the minute she knew the idea could be implemented, then I’d be chasing after her while she committed every ounce of herself to making my big idea a reality.
Our paths first intertwined in Gaza City in July 1998, at a time – which, at this very moment, feels difficult to imagine – when the collective belief in the attainability of peace enveloped us. We conducted a workshop on the pivotal role of women in peace-building and then spent the next 24 years, side by side, as co-executive directors of AJEEC, shaping programs for the empowerment of the Arab Bedouin community in Israel and tirelessly advocating for equal rights and justice for our people.
Our partnership was full of arguments. Sometimes it was between my big ideas and Vivian’s sense of logistics. Other times we argued about identity, majority-minority relations, and how to work together amid violence and war. Whenever we fought, our arguments travelled from our office into the small elevator in our building until the moment we drove off in our respective cars. We’d argue until we were both in tears, but even then, neither one of us would budge. Later, while I’d be driving home to my village in Laqiya and she to her home in Kibbutz Bari, we’d call each other. If we were still charged, we’d turn around and meet up for coffee until we felt resolved. If we weren’t, we’d say goodnight and continue the debate in the morning.
Our friendship worked, our organization worked because we were able to bring our whole selves. AJEEC was built on the premise of creating a truly shared space for Arabs and Jews. In order for this space to be solid, we couldn’t just show each other the parts that fit. We needed to bare the things that didn’t seem to fit. Only by shedding light on those things could we ensure the sustainability of our vision.
Together, Vivian and I advocated for early childhood education in the unrecognized Bedouin villages, we planned and implemented youth volunteering projects, and led women’s empowerment initiatives. We stood together in road junctions advocating for peace and Arab-Jewish shared spaces, and chanted against discriminatory policies. During times of war and conflict, Vivian always stood her ground and advocated for ceasefire. She believed that, ‘an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind’ and that only peace would grant the safety for both our people, for both the Palestinians and Israelis. Vivian, a true woman leader, embodied assertiveness, tenderness, strength, and sensitivity. She demanded to be challenged, knowing that a good leader needs to be surrounded by people who challenge her in order to make wise decisions, especially decisions about the people who are different from her.
Vivian’s life, a celebration of unwavering commitment, blurred the boundaries between the personal and the political, seamlessly weaving her professional endeavours into the fabric of her personal existence. We raised our kids together, shared our experiences as mothers together, and consulted each other on our respective family dramas. When airstrikes fell on Gaza in 2009, we cried, we hugged, but never, for an instant, did we stop believing that peace is possible. She cultivated connection. She built trusting relationship. True relationships. Vivian will be missed, not just by her family and her colleagues, but by the people she worked with. Women in the unrecognized villages know Vivian.
Children in Gaza know Vivian. Israel and Palestine know Vivian. May Vivian’s life, marked by profound dedication, stand as a testament to someone who fervently pursued her own vision, a vision anchored in justice and peace. Vivian is no more, but her face remains a beacon of hope for me.
Beneath all of our identities lies our essence. This essence with one voice and one face. This essence called ‘humanity’. Vivian, your smile will always shine, reminding all of us who have dedicated their lives to advocating for a shared society on that piece of land, all of us who feel lost, all of us who don’t know what to do, to still believe in humanity.
May your soul rest in peace.