Son pays tribute to peace activist Vivian Silver at joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony

My name is Yonatan Zeigen, and on October 7, my mother, Vivian Silver, did not survive the massacre at Kibbutz Be’eri. For over a month it was believed that she was a hostage, until archeologists were able to find her remains in the security room she’d been hiding in.

Vivian was an extraordinary woman. She was assertive, motivated, wholly invested in great goals and ideas of justice, peace and feminism, while at the same time being sensitive, sometimes fragile, and always motivated by an attitude of interpersonal relationships and friendship. She was also a wonderful mother who always made me feel I was the most important thing in the world, and an even better grandmother.

I was on the phone with her in those last moments, experiencing the waning flickers of her life from afar. It’s hard to express the void that remains, the meaninglessness of a death that could have been avoided.

On the one hand, I wish no one had to get to know me. On the other hand, bereavement mustn’t be anonymous. The unbearable pain I feel as a son who has lost his mother is not just personal. The helplessness, despair, the abyss forged by loss, the anger, the confusion.

And also the attempt to hang on to hope, the creation of meaning and the search for optimism. These are not all just a private journey. All societies need to look bereavement in the eye, know the names of the deceased and the bereaved, internalize the price they are paying, and that society as a whole is paying, and also see the bereavement of the other and recognize that the pain is the same.

At one of the Women Wage Peace rallies, my mother spoke to the crowd about peace, about reconciliation and security for Israelis and freedom for the Palestinians. She said that these ideas are necessary not only for her children, but for her as well. That is, the right time to implement these ideas is now. That was true in 1948, and in 1967, and in 1929, and in the 90s and in 2023.

In the end, she died not as a peace activist, or as a leader, or as a mother. Death is impartial and war is blind. That’s why it’s so strange to me that we, as humans, continue to bring it upon ourselves instead of seeking peace.

Unfortunately, she will not get to see these ideas coming true. Today I look at my children, heartbroken at the thought that their father too might not live to see peace in his lifetime. How many generations of bereavement must there be until we understand that the only way for all people between the Jordan River and the sea to live in security and freedom is through peace? That the only way to live is in peace?

I don’t want to stand on this stage. I don’t want the Bereaved Families Forum and Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, as well as Road to Recovery and the New Israel Fund, Women Wage Peace and all the organizations Vivian participated in over the years.

I wish we didn’t need all these important organizations in order to act against the occupation and resolve the conflict. I wish we already had an alternative reality in which the conflict didn’t exist. This reality is possible and it is even easy to implement. The only obstacle holding us back is will. 

We all need to realize that the occupation, the 7th of October, the war in Gaza, Jewish and Arab terrorism, and any kind of political violence, are not inevitable. They are based on false and toxic ideas that bring and will continue to bring destruction on us all.

Our effort is to create beneficent ideals of devotion to life, of fair and equitable resource distribution, of recognizing the other until he turns from stranger into someone familiar, until we are no longer willing to kill and be killed.

My mother dedicated her life to these simple understandings. She took to the streets, established organizations, sat on committees and councils. She spoke on every stage, raised funds, whispered in the ears of statesmen. She built partnerships and friendships and bridges.

None of her works were ever limited. There was no limit to her determination, and she didn’t recognize the border that separates, distinguishes or compartmentalizes people.

Now, against my will, the torch has been passed on to me.

I bear it humbly, but also with determination and commitment.

May it be extinguished on my watch so I don’t have to pass it on to my children.

Please click here to watch the recording of the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony

Yonatan Zeigen is a social worker and a peace activist, he is the son of Vivian Silver, who were murdered in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7.