Chen Zeigen recently returned to Canada from Israel, where he and his brother spent time supporting grieving families in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. While he tried to provide comfort, he says he felt the role was often reversed.
“I went to funerals. I made shiva calls. The grieving families often look at me and my brother as if we need to be comforted, because the sentiment is that they have closure and they can grieve. And we are being held up in the air and then we don’t know anything,” Zeigen told host Mercedes Stephenson in an interview on The West Block.
Zeigen’s mother, Canadian Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver, is believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas in those attacks.
“I feel there is still hope that she is alive and well and that we will be able to see her back with us,” Zeigen said.
About a week after the attacks, Zeigen says his family was contacted by the Israeli government, which said it had geolocated Silver’s phone in Gaza.
This is the lone bit of information he says the family has received about what may have happened to Silver after her home in the Be’eri kibbutz near the Israel-Gaza border was burned in the attack.
The last text message she sent was, “They’re inside the house,” her other son, Yonatan Zeigen told Global News previously.
Israel-Hamas conflict: Inside the burned home of allegedly kidnapped Israeli-Canadian
Silver was born in Winnipeg and moved to Israel in the 1970s, where she quickly became a fierce peace activist and founded the organization Women Wage Peace.
“She believed in reaching peaceful agreement, building peace from the bottom up. She devoted her life to garnering understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, organizing encounters. She constantly opposed any use of violence on either side,” Zeigen told Stephenson.
But now, that peaceful solution Silver spent her life advocating for has been pushed further into doubt, Zeigen added.
“I know that one of the heartbreaking consequences of this attack is that many of her friends that survived the attack, many of the people in my community in Kibbutz Be’eri, who shared these views with her, who struggled for a peaceful solution, they have completely lost faith,” he said.
“So I hope if we see her again soon, that she is still the hopeful, hopeful and strong woman that we know.”
‘No real movement’ on hostages: Cotler
Zeigen was joined on The West Block by Irwin Cotler, Canada’s now-former special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism.
He’d finished his duties as the first person in that role when the attacks happened and was in Israel at the time.
“We were there to celebrate my son’s marriage and it ended up becoming, as it’s been said, the worst day in Jewish history since the Holocaust,” Cotler said.
The Oct. 7 attacks saw 1,400 people killed, according to Israeli authorities, and more than 200 people believed to be taken hostage.
Friend of missing Canadian-Israelis waiting for word
Cotler is calling on an international coalition to work toward the unconditional return of hostages, saying their release is a humanitarian, legal and moral imperative.
“At this point, there’s been no real movement on the matter of the hostages. And we say it’s a matter of urgency and it’s a matter of international responsibility,” he said.
In the weeks since the attack, a handful of hostages have been released.
There have been heated rallies around the world since the attack and amid Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes and ground movements on Gaza, which is run by Hamas. Hamas-run Gaza health authorities say some 9,000 people have been killed in the retaliatory strikes.
Amid this tension, Cotler says there is the “most alarming” rise in antisemitism since formal tracking began 50 years ago.
“We’re seeing now an intensifying resurgent, metastasized global antisemitism,” Cotler said, describing the growth as “explosive.”
On Oct. 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Deborah Lyons as Colter’s successor as special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism.
Lyons is Canada’s former ambassador to Israel.
— with files from Global News’ Jeff Semple and Reuters.
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