This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we are shar­ing from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

I am not sleep­ing much these days. I am a night owl, any­way, but not usu­al­ly to this extreme. Now I find myself awake at 2 a.m., and I need to rise at 6:30 a.m. with my two younger kids who still go to school.

Before this war, it might have been a book keep­ing me awake, but I have not man­aged to read a whole one since Octo­ber 7. When the war start­ed, I was read­ing one by Raja She­hadeh. It was rec­om­mend­ed by an acquain­tance-on-the way-to-becom­ing-a-friend, Mah­moud Muna; he owns a book­store at the Amer­i­can Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem.

Back in Sep­tem­ber — a dif­fer­ent life — I had brought him my debut nov­el, Hope Val­ley, to stock at his store. It’s about the friend­ship between a Jew­ish-Israeli woman (Tik­vah) and a Pales­tin­ian-Israeli woman (Rabia) in the Galilee, inter­laced with a diary from 1948 writ­ten by Rabia’s father, Jamal. In return, Mah­moud thought I would appre­ci­ate Raja Shehadeh’s book Where the Line is Drawn because it is about a true-life friend­ship between She­hadeh, a Pales­tin­ian, and Hen­ry Abramovitch, a Jew­ish-Israeli who, like Tik­vah (and me), emi­grat­ed from Amer­i­ca (he from Cana­da, me from the US).

I wrote to Mah­moud on What­sApp on Octo­ber 3 ask­ing if he had read my nov­el yet, as we had said we would get togeth­er to talk about it. I was plan­ning to be in Jerusalem any­way for a Women Wage Peace event. He wrote back he was out of the coun­try and would be back in a few days.

Octo­ber 7 came a few days lat­er, and I for­got about the nov­el. Sud­den­ly my books felt insignif­i­cant. My sec­ond nov­el, To Die in Secret, came out just this sum­mer, but I had no moti­va­tion to pro­mote it. The only things that seemed worth doing were relat­ed to the war.

When I moved from Jerusalem to the Galilee my eyes became more opened to the Arab-Jew­ish/­Pales­tin­ian-Israeli con­flict and its his­to­ry and present real­i­ty. I began to read a lot on that sub­ject, includ­ing a lot of Pales­tin­ian lit­er­a­ture, and read even more as I wrote Hope Val­ley. So, on that day I went to Mahmoud’s book­store, I came home with many books.

Unable to con­cen­trate on any books, the Nak­ba and Pales­tin­ian vic­tim­hood, a sub­ject that once drew me more than any oth­er after my obses­sion with Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture, was cer­tain­ly not the top­ic to draw me in. Not while I was read­ing about and watch­ing videos of Hamas mas­sacring Jews.

I am an activist who ded­i­cates much time and ener­gy to build­ing a shared soci­ety of part­ner­ship among Arabs and Jews in the Galilee. I am a mem­ber of sev­er­al groups ded­i­cat­ed to this pur­pose from dif­fer­ent angles, and I have devot­ed count­less hours to learn­ing the Pales­tin­ian nar­ra­tive. Indeed, Hope Val­ley is writ­ten from the alter­nat­ing points of view of Tik­vah and Rabia.

I was steeped in Rabia’s nar­ra­tive, hav­ing read so much and lis­tened to my Pales­tin­ian-Israeli friends’ sto­ries. But there is also the oth­er point of view, that of Tik­vah. She is part of me as well. There are pieces of me in her. Like me, Tik­vah moved to Israel out of Zion­ist ide­ol­o­gy and, like me, she slow­ly began to under­stand she was told only part of the story.

Hope Val­ley takes place dur­ing the sum­mer lead­ing up to the Sec­ond Intifa­da. The book ends as the intifa­da is erupt­ing, but, nev­er­the­less, the sto­ry comes to a close on a pos­i­tive note. Ear­ly in the nov­el, the two women dis­cov­er that Tik­vah is liv­ing in the home from which Jamal was expelled in 1948 and where he left his diary. This is one of the cen­tral con­flicts in the nov­el. Yet, the women find a way to work through this and dis­cov­er they are con­nect­ed in more ways than they orig­i­nal­ly realized. 

I won­der now what Tik­vah would have felt as the Sec­ond Intifa­da pro­gressed. Would she have retained her hope? I think so. But the Hamas mas­sacre was not the Sec­ond Intifa­da. Tik­vah would have con­demned the vio­lent tac­tics of the Sec­ond Intifa­da. Rabia would have as well, but she would have told Tik­vah it was the result of an oppres­sive occu­pa­tion that is destruc­tive to both Jews and Pales­tini­ans, and that Pales­tini­ans feel so pow­er­less and demor­al­ized that they feel this is the only way to resist.

Tik­vah would have under­stood that, even if she could not con­done ter­ror­iz­ing and mur­der­ing inno­cent peo­ple for the poli­cies of a government.

But Octo­ber 7 was not the intifa­da. The Black Sab­bath mas­sacre was not about the 1967 occu­pa­tion, one which I demon­strate against togeth­er with my Arab-Israeli friends. The IDF pulled out of Gaza in 2005– although life in Gaza was harsh lead­ing up to Octo­ber 7, not only because of Israeli poli­cies, but also because of Egypt, and even more so because of Hamas. More­over, these were not free­dom fight­ers; they were Hamas’ army.

No, this attack was not about the 1967 occu­pa­tion; it was about the 1948 occu­pa­tion,” the estab­lish­ment of a Jew­ish State in the Mid­dle East, my gut was telling me. The attack was so bru­tal, so hate-filled, it was impos­si­ble to see it as free­dom fight­ing, so I reread Hamas’ char­ter to con­firm my intu­ition. My mem­o­ry was cor­rect; Hamas states as its mis­sion the destruc­tion of the State of Israel and the mur­der of all Jews world­wide and their sym­pa­thiz­ers, and then tak­ing over the West as a whole.

It became clear to me this attack was an attempt to put Hamas’ char­ter into action. I began to won­der if that was true for the intifa­da as well. I did not know what to think any­more. My world­view was in question.

The mas­sacre of Octo­ber 7 sent me back to the Shoah (for obvi­ous rea­sons) and 1947 to 1948, when the sur­round­ing coun­tries did not accept the Par­ti­tion Plan, and launched the attacks that start­ed what Israel now calls the War of Inde­pen­dence. Every­thing that hap­pened after that, includ­ing what the Pales­tini­ans call the Nak­ba, came after. And that is where I had been for years – in the after, when Israel was blamed for the ongo­ing con­flict, and, I had been con­vinced, had to take more respon­si­bil­i­ty because it was the oppress­ing pow­er. Until Octo­ber 7. Then I was back in the before, when Jews were fight­ing for their exis­ten­tial right to exist. And it was terrifying.

The Octo­ber 7 attack trig­gered in me col­lec­tive inter­gen­er­a­tional trau­ma from the Holo­caust I had processed and been able to keep below the sur­face. As a child, I was an obses­sive read­er of Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture for youth: Anne Frank, Elie Weisel, and oth­ers. I can still recall vis­cer­al­ly that feel­ing of it would have been me” as I read Anne’s final diary entry when the Nazis are bang­ing on the door, or Elie Wiesel’s descrip­tion of march­ing from Buchen­wald to Auschwitz. I went to my old­er brother’s room when I fin­ished Wiesel’s Night and woke him up. I could not be alone.

This fas­ci­na­tion less­ened some as I grew into adult­hood, espe­cial­ly as I became more fas­ci­nat­ed with Pales­tin­ian lit­er­a­ture. But then I dis­cov­ered Etty Hillesum’s writ­ings. Etty died at age twen­ty-nine in Auschwitz and kept exten­sive diaries and let­ters dur­ing the few years lead­ing up to her mur­der. Her writ­ings were trans­for­ma­tive for me. They, along with my own per­son­al inner work, helped me move beyond the trau­ma to a place where I saw humans and all of Cre­ation as con­nect­ed rather than separate.

If there was any sep­a­ra­tion at all, it was between those who believe in love, con­nec­tion, and peace, and those who believe in hate, sep­a­ra­tion, and violence.

But on Octo­ber 7, my trust was shak­en. Per­haps there was no get­ting around sep­a­ra­tion. Again, I was thrust into defen­sive mode; if I had been liv­ing on a kib­butz in the Gaza enve­lope instead of 150 kilo­me­ters north on a kib­butz in the Galilee, I could have been mur­dered in a most bru­tal way. Or, if I was lucky, I would have been tak­en hostage.

I felt a shift inside me – sub­tle but sig­nif­i­cant. I went to a demon­stra­tion to sup­port the fam­i­lies of the hostages and call for the release of all those tak­en cap­tive. When Hatik­vah,” the nation­al anthem, was sung from the podi­um, instead of my usu­al stand­ing in silence because of the Jew­ish-cen­tered char­ac­ter of the anthem that is sup­posed to be for our whole coun­try (which con­tains a 21% Arab minor­i­ty also indige­nous to this land), I burst into tears and sang along in pride, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and despair.

It is hard to know all the hostages’ sto­ries, even if I keep each per­son in my heart. I focus on indi­vid­u­als – some of whom I have a per­son­al con­nec­tion with, some of whom I iden­ti­fy with –as I pray for the col­lec­tive. Vivian Sil­ver was one of those with whom I had a per­son­al con­nec­tion and with whom I iden­ti­fied. Like me, she was a peace activist, a women’s rights activist before that, and was a dual cit­i­zen of Cana­da and Israel. In fact, I had seen Vivian at the Women Wage Peace event just two days before the Octo­ber 7 massacre.

On yet anoth­er sleep­less night, I tried again to pick up Shehadeh’s book, but I couldn’t even open it, notic­ing for the first time the sub­ti­tle of the book: Cross­ing Bound­aries in Occu­pied Pales­tine. My assump­tion was that this author too, was not talk­ing about 1967 when he talked about occupation.

I, too, believe in a one-state solu­tion (although I would be hap­py to set­tle for a two-state one). That has always been my ide­al, my spir­i­tu­al long­ing, my redemp­tive vision. But that one state would be a place where both per­se­cut­ed peo­ples, Pales­tini­ans and Jews, would be assured a refuge where they would live with full equal­i­ty and secu­ri­ty. This is not what Hamas and their sup­port­ers want, and not what the call of free Pales­tine from the Riv­er to the Sea” refers to most often. 

Was this what She­hadeh want­ed? I won­dered. Did he want to live in peace with Jews on this land, or did he see us as colo­nial occu­piers, like so much of the world does now? Or at least so much of the world on the polit­i­cal left, who I con­sid­ered my allies in this strug­gle. Did he accept my right to live on this land in part­ner­ship and peace, or did he also sup­port turn­ing this land into anoth­er coun­try in the region prac­ti­cal­ly devoid of Jews? (In part because of Jews expul­sion from Israel’s sur­round­ing coun­tries in 1948.)

I put the book down, picked up my phone, and scrolled on Face­book, look­ing for news, know­ing it would not be good but still want­i­ng to know. I saw a post by my friend social activist Ghadir Hani, who was very close with Vivian; could her words be true? Vivian’s remains had been iden­ti­fied in her home in Kib­butz Be’eri. I woke my spouse, Jacob, to tell him. Like when I had fin­ished read­ing Night back when I was a kid, I did not want to be alone with this horror.

Final­ly, I did fall asleep, and a few hours lat­er, when my alarm sound­ed, I won­dered if I had dreamt it all. A sleep­ing night­mare with­in a wak­ing night­mare. I checked the news; it was true. Vivian was dead. In fact, she had been for weeks. She was mur­dered on Octo­ber 7 soon after her final mes­sages– from where she was hid­ing in a clos­et in her safe room– to friends and fam­i­ly, telling them that ter­ror­ists were right out­side her clos­et door.

It was hard to get out of bed, but my kids, who were thank­ful­ly still alive, need­ed me, so I forced myself up.

After the kids were off, I post­ed in my Spir­it of the Galilee inter­faith lead­er­ship group about the news of Vivian’s death, sug­gest­ing we ded­i­cate our Zoom meet­ing planned for that after­noon to her mem­o­ry. A dear friend in the group— a devout Mus­lim and a staunch shared soci­ety activist — wrote to me pri­vate­ly that she was still in bed, could not get up, could not breathe, was start­ing to lose hope.

I had been with this same friend just the night before, at an event of our local Stand­ing Togeth­er chap­ter, where Arabs and Jews paint­ed ban­ners with mes­sages of Arab-Jew­ish sol­i­dar­i­ty to hang on bridges above major roads in our area, declar­ing to the world the impor­tance of Arab-Jew­ish sol­i­dar­i­ty espe­cial­ly in these dark­est of times. I remind­ed her of what she and I had both said in our cir­cle the night before– no mat­ter what the big­ger pic­ture is around us, know­ing we can rely on our com­mit­ment to and love for one anoth­er in our lit­tle part of the world is a source of great strength and hope. It is the only hope for this place.

I believed what I wrote. But would this bring the peace we so des­per­ate­ly needed? 

She sent me back a big red heart.

And then I wrote the fol­low­ing poem:

That is what I want to be… the think­ing heart of an entire con­cen­tra­tion camp.”

-Etty Hille­sum, Octo­ber 3, 1942, West­er­bork con­cen­tra­tion camp 

I am Anne Frank,

Believ­er in the good heart

of every human,

that faith and courage can prevent

a mis­er­able death,

that sit­ting in nature with God


can bring com­fort and hope.

I am Etty Hillesum,

Believ­er in God and in man,

in the abil­i­ty of inner peace to bring peace,

of the sur­ren­der to death to ease all death,

of the wide hori­zon and the rose-red cyclamen

to nur­ture hope.

I am Vivian Silver,

Believ­er in people,

in peace alone as the path to peace,

that extend­ing a hand will receive a hand,

that women’s voic­es can end this hell,

that hav­ing friends on the oth­er side of the fence,

can make a difference.

I am me, sit­ting in despair

when the body of the last of these women

has been found cremated,

yet this time with­out the mer­cy of gassing her first.

And I won­der what Anne and Etty were thinking

when they marched into Auschwitz.

What Vivian was thinking

as Hamas ter­ror­ists opened the door to the closet

where she was hiding.

Or did they not find her and sim­ply burn her house

with her in it,

hop­ing she was in there somewhere

so they could slaughter

anoth­er Jew?

With all the words my soul sis­ters left me,

I will nev­er know their thoughts at that moment in time,

their feel­ings as the worst was hap­pen­ing to them.

I can nev­er know what they believed as they faced

pure evil.

I am left with only my own think­ing heart

in this night­mare human­i­ty has dreamt

for itself.

A few days lat­er, I went to Vivian’s funer­al. The eulo­gies cel­e­brat­ed her life but did not shy away from the trag­ic cir­cum­stances in which she had died. When the funer­al end­ed, there was no bur­ial planned. There was not real­ly a body to bury, as far as I under­stand, but what­ev­er they had of her remains were buried, I lat­er learned. But not then. Spon­ta­neous­ly, a group of women from Women Wage Peace, who were wear­ing the organization’s sig­na­ture white shirts with turquoise scarves, stood up and start­ed sway­ing and singing songs of peace. I joined in, singing through my tears. When they broke out into the song We Shall Over­come” some of my hope was restored.

A week or so lat­er, I was asked to col­lab­o­rate on a children’s book about Vivian. I was hon­ored to take this on and began speak­ing to peo­ple who knew her. One such per­son was Roni Kei­dar, a friend and kin­dred spir­it of Vivian’s who also lives in the Gaza enve­lope, was involved in the same peace work as Vivian, and was also at home on Octo­ber 7. She lives on Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah with three of her chil­dren. Mirac­u­lous­ly, they all sur­vived. One daugh­ter and her fam­i­ly only sur­vived because they hid in a clos­et in the house, not in the safe room, so when the ter­ror­ists saw the safe room door open, they thought the fam­i­ly had left, tried to escape.

Roni is now liv­ing in a house in Cen­tral Israel, gen­er­ous­ly giv­en to her and her fam­i­ly to inhab­it until they can go back south, if that is what they decide to do. The house had been sold recent­ly and was slat­ed to be knocked down and rebuilt by the new own­ers. Instead of start­ing their build­ing plan, they, who do not know Roni’s fam­i­ly per­son­al­ly, had vol­un­teers paint the house and fur­nish it. Peo­ple bring Roni and her fam­i­ly food and check on them dai­ly, to give them sup­port and help them through their trauma.

This could not hap­pen in any oth­er coun­try,” she said. My eyes filled with tears, my heart with pride in my peo­ple. This was not a famil­iar feel­ing for me before Octo­ber 7. Now it was becom­ing more so.

Roni told me peo­ple are ask­ing what she thinks of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of peace with Gaza now.

I tell them I need time to process this all,” she told me. I can’t say I’ve giv­en up hope. But I am not in the same place I was before Octo­ber 7. I am not there yet. I don’t know if I will be. I need time. But what I do know is that this land is my home. I am not going any­where, and nei­ther are they. So, we must find a way out of this. And war is not the answer in the long term. We can­not live with Hamas, and nei­ther can the inno­cent Gazan civil­ians. But I don’t know what the solu­tion is, except to rec­og­nize each other’s human­i­ty and work togeth­er for peace.”

Next, I spoke with Rami Aman, a Gazan peace activist now liv­ing in Egypt. He escaped Gaza and Hamas after being arrest­ed and tor­tured by Hamas for speak­ing with Israelis (includ­ing Vivian and Roni) on Zoom and orga­niz­ing peace events on both sides of the bor­der. Rami, too, said we must con­tin­ue our work, even if there is no clear solu­tion and polit­i­cal lead­er­ship in sight. He found­ed the orga­ni­za­tion Anoth­er Voice, because he believes there is anoth­er voice, a third one that is not only Pales­tin­ian or Israeli, but rather the joint voice of Pales­tini­ans and Israelis who rec­og­nize each other’s human­i­ty and want peace.

For var­i­ous rea­sons, I have shelved the children’s book project for now. But speak­ing with those who knew Vivian well inspired me to con­tin­ue her work. I, too, believe in this oth­er voice. Like Rami and Roni, I am dis­il­lu­sioned by Octo­ber 7 and all that lead up to it, includ­ing the destruc­tive, dys­func­tion­al, and neg­li­gent Israeli gov­ern­ment that allowed the mas­sacre to hap­pen. But I will not let that deter me from believ­ing that while maybe not all peo­ple are good at heart (as Anne Frank, per­haps naive­ly, did), at least most are. And the oth­ers have the poten­tial to be.

I picked up Shehadeh’s book again, to fig­ure out what he meant by Occu­pied Pales­tine” in the title. But I was soon swept up in the book itself. Shehadeh’s voice is an impor­tant one for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of part­ner­ship, not only with­in the Green Line but even across it. And the friend­ship that he writes about between Hen­ry and him is com­pli­cat­ed, but it is very real, and inspir­ing in its abil­i­ty to endure despite the chal­lenges. But it was still not clear to me what his title meant.

I wrote to Mah­moud, the book­store own­er who had rec­om­mend­ed the book. His answer:

I actu­al­ly don’t know. There is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that he meant it metaphor­i­cal­ly not physically.”

I can hold that ambi­gu­i­ty for now, I think. I can sim­ply be grate­ful for my cor­re­spon­dence with Mah­moud dur­ing these dev­as­tat­ing times, and hope we will meet one day soon at a table out­side his book­store in East Jerusalem and get to know each oth­er bet­ter. Per­haps become friends.

Since Octo­ber 7, the words of Mag­gie Smith’s poem Good Bones” have been run­ning through my head. The world is half ter­ri­ble, and that is a con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate,” she writes. And today, that feels so true. But maybe tomor­row – or next month, or next year, or in a few decades, I will feel dif­fer­ent­ly. Or maybe my chil­dren or grand­chil­dren will.

The poem ends with a line evok­ing tikkun olam, humanity’s oblig­a­tion to at least try and repair our bro­ken world: This place could be beau­ti­ful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

Sup­port the work of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and become a mem­ber today.

Havi­va Ner-David is a writer and rab­bi who lives in north­ern Israel on Kib­butz Han­na­ton, where she runs Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body and Soul and has a thriv­ing spir­i­tu­al com­pan­ion­ing prac­tice. She is the author of three mem­oirs — Life on the Fringes, Chanah’s Voice, and Dream­ing Against the Cur­rent – and two nov­els — Hope Val­ley and To Die in Secret. She is also the co-author of one pub­lished chil­dren’s book, Yon­ah and the Mikveh Fish, and anoth­er on the way to pub­li­ca­tion, Sabi Could­n’t Find His Car: a mod­ern Hanukkah mir­a­cle. Ner-David is an activist build­ing a shared soci­ety of part­ner­ship between Jew­ish and Pales­tin­ian Israelis in the Galilee. She par­ents, with her spouse Jacob, sev­en chil­dren, and lives with a degen­er­a­tive neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­ease that has been one of her great­est teachers.