Women Wage Peace

Vivian Silver – a Woman Waging Peace

I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I have been a kibbutz member almost 45 years, the last 28 on Kibbutz Beeri, bordering the Gaza Strip. I am the mother of two sons, Chen and Yonatan and the grandmother of two young grandsons, Isaac and Allen, the source of endless joy for me.

In 1968 I spent my junior year abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem studying psychology and English literature. Three weeks after my return to Canada I decided I would make my home in Israel. During my final year in college I was among the founders of the Student Zionist Alliance on my campus and in that capacity, was invited to its national conference in Montreal. There I met activists in the Habonim youth movement who planned on making aliyah and re-establishing Kibbutz Gezer. The day I wrote my last university exam, I boarded a flight to New York to join the group and grow our numbers.

Those were the late 60’s, the years we thought we were going to change the world. I spent 3 ½ years in New York, active in Jewish and Zionist causes, including the launch of the Jewish feminist movement in America. It was a life-changing period. During that time I understood that in addition to being a kibbutz member, I was destined to be a social change and peace activist.

Our group made aliyah in 1974 and settled on Kibbutz Gezer. In 1981, I established the Department Promoting Gender Equality in the Kibbutz Movement. Most of my working years on kibbutz were spent as the manager of construction projects, while after hours I served on the board of the New Israel Fund, when the NIF was fittingly lauded as the proactive supporter of social justice issues and organizations: religious pluralism, civil rights, shared society between Jews and Arabs, gender equality and more. I then served on the Steering Committee of Shatil.

In 1998, I became the Executive Director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development in Beer Sheva, an NGO promoting human sustainable development, shared society between Jews and Arabs and peace in the Middle East. Soon after, I was joined by Amal Elsana Alh’jooj and we co-directed AJEEC-NISPED, winning the 2011 Victor J. Goldberg Peace Prize of the Institute for International Education.  While we later focused on empowerment projects in the Bedouin community in the Negev, initially we worked with Palestinian organizations on joint people-to-people projects.  I spent much time in Gaza until the outbreak of the second intifada. We continued working with organizations in the West Bank. That’s why it especially infuriates me when people claim: “We have no partner on the other side!”  I personally know so many Palestinians who yearn for peace no less than we do.

with Carol Winograd marching for Peace in Nazareth

At the beginning of 2014, I experienced three significant events within the space of one week: I celebrated my 65th birthday, I retired and became a grandmother for the first time. It was a time for soul-searching. 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. I decided that I would no longer do more of the same thing, that I must find another way. In July of that year, Operation Protective Edge broke out, the third war in six years, virtually in my back yard. When I heard that women all over the country were beginning to organize, with the goal of focusing on one issue alone – bringing about a political agreement with the full participation of women from all sectors of society – I immediately signed on. I had the privilege of being among those southerners who greeted the hundreds of women from all over the country who came by train to Sderot to launch Women Wage Peace. 

Marching for Peace in Jerusalem

From that moment, I have basically lived and breathed the movement day and night. 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 resolve the conflict. It will only bring more dead and wounded. When rockets fall in our area and the media announces that there were no casualties, I want to shout: “What are you talking about?? There are thousands of emotionally wounded among us – children and adults alike!”

With Naama Alsana at the Knesset

Within the movement, I am a member of the central activists’ team, the Resource Development team, the International Relations team, as well as our Western Negev regional team. The latter organized a rally at Tel Gama, an archeological site normally lush with greenery in the rainy season, which had been burned almost beyond recognition in the kite-bomb fires. Hundreds of women and men from around the country were physically exposed for the first time to the devastating damage caused to our fields and our nature reserves. Covered in ashes ourselves, we called on our government in a loud and clear voice: do everything possible to reach a diplomatic agreement. We also called on our Palestinian sisters to join us in our call to their leaders: Enough! Terror does not benefit anyone! These neighbors also deserve security and a decent life.

In closing, I want to add that it is vital that WWP grow its numbers in order to reach a critical mass of Israelis that can influence our leaders to opt for a political agreement and prevent the next war. In spite of the criticism of some of my friends on the Left, I truly believe that the radically inclusive strategy of Women Wage Peace can achieve the goals we have embraced.

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