‘Kidnapped from Israel’ fliers reflect anguish over hostages even as they draw controversy

The two Israeli artists were visiting New York when the frantic texts and calls began: Hamas had attacked Israel, leaving a trail of grisly killings and taking hostages. 

Too far away to help, the couple decided to use their street-art backgrounds – designing stark red-and-black fliers bearing the word “kidnapped” above photos and names of the abducted, from young children to the elderly.  

Nitzan Mintz, 32, and the artist who goes by the name Dede Bandaid, 36, took stacks of them into Manhattan on Oct. 9 to paste them up and give them out. Few passersby, however, were interested.

Dejected, they went home, put the fliers in a public cloud storage file, posted on social media and went to bed. “When we woke up, it was already going viral,” Bandaid said.

A woman walks past kidnap and disappearance posters, showing recently kidnapped or missing Israelis, following the Hamas attacks on Israel, in central Paris on October 17, 2023.

The “Kidnapped from Israel” filers have since become viral symbols of more than 200 Hamas hostages – plastered on walls, subways and telephone polls in cities across the U.S and beyond, translated into 30 languages and promoted by some celebrities.

But while they have highlighted the plight of the hostages, the posters have also at times highlighted public divides over the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its complicated history.

More:A gulf of perspectives is growing among US millennials amid war in Israel

Bandaid has seen many posters torn down in his daily treks into the New York streets. It’s also happened in South Florida, a Miami dentist was fired after being filmed tearing down fliers. A New York college student drew outrage for a similar incident. And the fliers have been targeted in other U.S. cities as well as in London and Melbourne.

Since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 6,400 have died on both sides, according to the United Nations. 

While the rationale behind tearing down posters is often unstated, Bandaid said he wants peace for all sides. The project’s aim, he said, is simply to keep the hostages in the public eye and press for their release. 

“They can tear it down,” he said. “We will put it back up.”

Shay Zaidenberg shows flyers of kidnapped Israelis on Sunday afternoon on the Great Lawn in West Palm Beach.

Street-art campaign goes viral

The fliers, which the creators describe as a form of guerilla public street art, were modeled on missing-persons posters familiar to U.S. residents.

The idea came out of brainstorming sessions with Mintz and others in the wake of the attacks and was created in partnership with Israeli designers including Tal Huber, who Bandaid said was in Israel in the days after the attack, listening to rockets fly overhead. The website also credits designer Shira Gershoni.

“We heard about the enormous number of people being kidnapped, and from all ages – babies, toddlers, to elderly people … just horrible,” Bandaid said. “We said, we have to do something. To put the message out there, to tell the story.”

It wasn’t long before demand for the fliers crashed their public DropBox. They quickly created a webpage with downloadable fliers. 

People attend a

The campaign took off.  People armed with tape and staple guns, and their own printouts of posters downloaded from the site, began spreading the fliers in cities across from San Francisco to New York, as well as in Europe and South America. They became features of pro-Israel demonstrations and appeared on college campuses.

Two weeks into it, Bandaid said, about 25,000 people are visiting the site each day. It now also includes video clips of Israelis being kidnapped and video testimonials by family members of hostages. 

“People also made billboards and digital TV trucks with advertisements that drive around the cities like in London and Berlin,” he said. “It’s everywhere.”

Fliers drawn into public divides 

The posters’ rapid spread has at times drawn the fliers into public debates surrounding the conflict.

U.S. polls have shown that while older generations remain more strongly sympathetic to Israel, millennials, and many who are younger, are almost evenly split on whether they align more with Israelis or Palestinians. 


Videos of people taking the fliers down at various locations, including New York University, have fueled outrage. New York Jewish Week recently reported that fliers were torn down within minutes of going up at Union Square subway, contributing to a heated exchange between a poster and a pro-Palestinian activist took place.

In Boston, a woman found ripping down posters of Israeli hostages at a shopping center has been fired from her job, the Boston Herald reported this week. 

And in Miami, dentist Ahmed Elkoussa was fired after he was filmed taking down posters. ElKoussa has since contended that he removed signs because he worried the fliers would fuel dangerous tensions. 

“Anything inciteful is not the answer right now,” he told WPLG-TV.

After Harvard University student groups drew a fierce backlash for issuing a statement attributing the violence to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, the fliers appeared all over campus.

Bandaid, too, has seen the flier torn down as he walks the streets of New York each day, pasting up hundreds of fliers. 

He knows the situation is charged, but says the campaign is about freeing innocent hostages, seemingly something people could agree upon.

“That could be their kids, their mother, their grandparents,” he said.

‘Kidnapped’ project upends artists lives 

Two weeks since it began, the project has come to consume Mintz and Bandaid’s daily lives, he said.

They and others talk daily with families of hostages, obtaining permissions, family photos or getting updates. Many are now reaching out to them, fearing their loved ones’ plight will be forgotten. 

“It’s a situation that we never thought we were going to be in. We’re artists, and we’re talking to families whose world has just collapsed,” he said. “There’s a lot of pain.”

The fliers give a powerful window into that pain. Among them: A 34-year-old mother and her two daughters, pictured smiling by the seaside. A 9-month-old Israeli-Argentinian baby, pictured holding a colorful ball. A 40-year-old Israeli, smiling in a sun hat, who was taken from a music festival. 

The couple stays glued to fast-moving developments. On Monday, Hamas released two women. Two days earlier, Hamas released an American-Israeli mother and daughter who had been visiting Israel from suburban Chicago. 

What will happen next – as hostage families worry about what a ground invasion will mean for the captives – isn’t clear. It’s day by day for families of hostages and those advocating for their release, whatever means they are using. 

“And every day is like you don’t know how it’s going to start,” Bandaid said. “And you don’t know how it’s going to end.”

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