Good graffiti

Street artists memorialize Oct. 7 victims, urge return of hostages

Founders of the Bring Them Home Now Graffiti Collective describe pivoting from making art about the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club to murals honoring those killed, taken hostage in the Hamas attacks

In the right hands, a can of spray paint can carry heartbreak and hope.

The Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club always had its artist-fans, who had shown their love by creating soccer-themed graffiti across Israel. But after Oct. 7, they shifted their focus, painting a mural in memory of Omer Hermesh, a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan who had been killed in the Hamas attacks. 

The mural, with its bold letters in grey, white, black and especially red, Hapoel Tel Aviv’s team color, caught the attention of families of others who had been killed or taken hostage on that day. Ever since, they have devoted themselves to painting murals in memory of the 35 Hapoel Tel Aviv fans who had been murdered or kidnapped. Across the country, more than 40 artists have participated in painting events, and fans of Hapoel Tel Aviv have shelved any rivalries with other clubs and created a collective named for the message that unites them: “Bring Them Home Now.”

During a webinar this week, Artists 4 Israel founder Craig Dershowitz interviewed Yuval Daniel and Michael Inbar, graffiti artists and founders of the Bring Them Home Now (BTHN) Graffiti Collective, about the artists’ journeys from illegal street artists and soccer fans to leading a movement that is raising public awareness about kidnapped Israelis through public art. The webinar was the first in a series convened by Artists 4 Israel, which, Dershowitz told eJewishPhilanthropy, had begun as a graffiti collective supporting Israel. 

“A4I has always relied on the strength and spectacle of graffiti to make bold, immediate changes to our landscape and that continues to this day with this new era of Israeli artists,” Dershowitz said. “If you think the pen is powerful, imagine the spray paint can!” 

The A4I founder first learned of the collective through its quarter-mile-long Bring Them Home Now mural in the Haifa rail yard, he said. 

“That piece was the talk of the graffiti world for a couple of weeks, and I was determined to find and thank the creators. One phone call and we met these amazing men and women working to return our kidnapped families,” he said.

Street artists paint the date of the Hamas attacks, Oct. 7 2023, on a wall in Israel.

Dershowitz said A4I’s first event 15 years ago brought together more than 50 artists to paint pro-Israel, street art-inspired work in a gallery space; the same year, the organization brought world famous graffiti artists to Israel to paint bomb shelters in Sderot near the Gaza border. Since then, A4I has brought more than 200 muralists to Israel, reaching tens of millions of social media followers and painting more than 800 murals in places across the country from Kibbutz Sa’ad, a religious community near the Gaza border, all the way up to Shtula, a moshav near the Lebanese border.

Inbar said that they are using street art because “that’s how we can impact the situation. Some people have money and donate — we know [this] way, so we’ll just use what we know and just go out and do it.”

Artists 4 Israel has been a source of support for the graffiti artists, elevating their voices and offering to help collect funds for painting supplies through its nonprofit.

During the webinar — and subsequent events in the series examining how graffiti is raising awareness  for the hostages and their families — Dershowitz and guests focused on the BTHN murals and the art pieces in memory of those who had been slain. 

“Our webinars cover different aspects of this movement but combine to describe the range of the use of street art for expression of both hope and grief,” Dershowitz said. He added, “While our brothers, sisters, mothers and children languish in captivity, street art, graffiti, murals, posters and other forms of public expression continue to burst forth from the darkness and bring our stories to light.”