We Shelter in Jaffa, Await Fate of Friends

Discretely cropped scene of Kibbutz Kfar Azza after devastating attack

I was awakened early Saturday morning in our Jaffa apartment by the siren that alerts Israelis to incoming rockets from Gaza. My wife and I ran downstairs and joined our visiting son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in our reinforced safe room, which doubles as a guest bedroom. As additional sirens sounded through the morning, we learned the enormity of the war that had begun. When we heard that our 41 year old son-in-law was called up to reserves duty, we joined our daughter up north to help with her newborn baby boy.

I am sure you are all following the news and know the early, shocking details of the terrorist invasion from Gaza. As I write these words, the death toll stands at 700 with thousands more injured. And members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to cross the border and infiltrate the local kibbutzim, moshavim and towns. The catastrophic Israeli intelligence and military failure is hard to understand, but I will leave that analysis for another day. Some are calling it Israel’s 9/11 and Pearl Harbor rolled into one. It is abundantly clear that this is now a different Israel than before the attack.

In the early hours of the surprise attack, kibbutz members took up arms, hoping to hold off what they assumed were a small number of Hamas fighters until the army arrived. I was shocked to see the face of a friend, Ofir Libstein, cross the television screen with the report that he had died defending his home, Kibbutz Kfar Azza. I had gotten to know Ofir initially in his role as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Habonim Dror Olami, the international umbrella entity for local branches of the progressive Zionist youth movement around the world. Ofir was the head of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council and had shared plans with me for the construction of an industrial zone that would employ both Israelis and Palestinians from Gaza. May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration.

It became clear, as Saturday turned to Sunday, that one objective of the attack was to bring back a large number of hostages and prisoners to Gaza. Sunday evening Hamas announced that they were holding over 100 people and Islamic Jihad claimed that they had 30.

With such large numbers of dead and abducted, the common phrase one hears is that since Israel is such a small country, everyone will be connected in some way to the sad list. Beyond knowing Ofir personally, it appears that I know two of those taken to Gaza.

Keith Siegel, an American citizen, and his wife Aviva were witnessed being abducted from their home on Kibbutz Kfar Azza. I lived on Kibbutz Gezer with his brother, Lee, for many years and the U.S. government has been notified of his situation.

Vivian Silver is a close friend going back to the Jewish student movement of the 1970s, Habonim and the founding of Kibbutz Gezer in 1974. She is missing* from her home in Kibbutz Beeri, one of the closest communities to Gaza. Several of us who were in touch with her on Saturday morning while she was in her safe room and received a final Whatsapp message a little after 11:00 when Hamas fighters were outside her door. There has been no sign of her since and we fear she has been abducted to Gaza as well.

Vivian Silver, 74, with poster of her embracing Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, her Bedouin partner in activism.

Many Ameinu members know Vivian, as our leadership trips to Israel regularly visited with her and colleagues to discuss two of her passions, Arab-Jewish co-existence and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Ameinu has organizationally worked with her in her role as Co-CEO of AJEEC-NISPED [Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation/ and the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development] and as a leader of Women Wage Peace. As she is a Canadian-Israeli citizen, the Canadian government has been made aware of her status.

I will remain involved in efforts to support the release of Keith, Aviva, Vivian and all of the hostages and prisoners. If and when there are steps you can take to help, we will let you know.

Cross-published from the Ameinu website.

Editor’s note: This links to a 2012 article on Vivian Silver’s activism on behalf of Negev Bedouin; this links to a 2010 article by Vivian Silver, advocating for the rights of Israeli Bedouin.

*Editor’s postscript: Sadly, after more than a month of not knowing, Vivian Silver’s remains have been identified (via her DNA). She was murdered at her kibbutz home, that first horrendous day.

kenneth.bob@thirdnarrative.org Bob Kenneth