Peace Activists Are Among the Israelis Missing and Killed

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By Ketrin Agustine

Peace Activists Are Among the Israelis Missing and Killed

On the Israeli side of the Gaza border lie a number of residential collectives whose members tend to be left of center and supportive of peace initiatives and Palestinian rights. Many of those residents were among the missing or dead after Hamas’s assault on Saturday.

Vivian Silver, 74, a member of Kibbutz Be’eri, near the northern end of Gaza, was still missing on Monday night and presumed to have been taken hostage. Ms. Silver, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was among the leaders of Women Wage Peace, a large grass-roots movement founded in the aftermath of the Gaza War of 2014 to promote a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She served for many years on the board of directors of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that said Israel was an apartheid state. She made visits to the occupied territories to express solidarity with Palestinians and volunteered with an organization that drove sick Palestinians from Gaza into Israel for medical treatment. She is the executive director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development and co-founded the Arab Jewish Center for Equality Empowerment and Cooperation.

One of her sons, Yonatan Zeigen, told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that he last communicated with her on Saturday morning, when she said she was hiding in a closet in a safe room on the kibbutz. They started to text rather than speak as the sound of shooting got closer, but there was no communication from her after 11:07 a.m., he said.

Ms. Silver is “probably worried sick about the Palestinian contacts in her phone, a friend wrote on Facebook. “She probably thinks of the danger they will now face for being seen as collaborators with the enemy.”

That peace-oriented Israelis were among Hamas’s targets has fueled further resentment of the Netanyahu government, which was caught by surprise on Saturday when Hamas fighters from the Gaza Strip streamed into Israel on Saturday, meeting little resistance.

Some Israelis said that, by contrast, the country’s military forces had been beefed up to protect settlers in the West Bank, who have clashed repeatedly with Palestinian residents.

Rachel Gur, an Israeli involved in the search for the missing, said that many of the residents of the collectives near Gaza had similar politics. “These are kibbutzniks, the people who vote for the left, who support coexistence,” she said. “You’re talking about the old time secular leftists, who want peace, who are against annexation.”

Another peace activist, Hayim Katsman, was initially believed to have been taken hostage on Saturday but was found killed in his home on Kibbutz Holit, near the southern end of Gaza. He had studied conservative trends and radicalism within the Zionist religious community, and played bass guitar and worked as a D.J. playing Arabic music.

He did gardening and landscaping at Kibbutz Holit, his mother, Hannah Wacholder Katsman, said. He had also worked as a mechanic, and taught at various colleges and pre-army programs. On her Facebook page, she mourned him as “beautiful, generous and talented.” He was also “very industrious and independent,” she said in a text message on Monday.

Mr. Katsman recently completed his doctorate at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he won an award for the best graduate paper in the Association for Israel Studies. During his time there, he served as co-coordinator of the Israel-Palestine research group at the university.

His doctorate was titled, “Religious nationalism in Israel/Palestine.” It is unusual for Israelis to refer to the region in that way, rather than simply as “Israel,” or “Israel and the occupied territories.”

Bilha and Yakovi Inon, who were peace activists and the parents of a prominent activist, Maoz Inon, were also killed on Saturday. The couple were killed in their farming collective, of Netiv Ha’Asara, which lies just north of Gaza.

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