Posters of the hostages held in Gaza have been appearing across Britain in recent weeks, all too often ripped down in mindless acts of violence. But in recent days, bigger and more enduring images of those kidnapped by Hamas have been popping up across London.
Huge murals calling to “bring them home” have surfaced in Camden Town, Shoreditch and Waterloo, thanks to a man on a mission to ensure their plight is not forgotten.
Street artist Benzi Brofman could have been among the victims of the deadly Hamas attacks on 7 October. He was at an event in Kibbutz Re’im a day earlier, invited there to paint at a live session at a trance scene event. He had intended to stay in the area for the weekend but left early because his wife was unwell at home and had had a “gut feeling” that “something terrible was going to happen”.
Writing on Instagram, the 40-year-old artist said: “Even when I tried to reassure her that the place is very secure and protected, she was not convinced. So I promised her I’d be back in a few hours.”
Nothing could have prepared him for what followed.
“I was in shock,” Brofman, who has been visiting the UK from his home near Haifa this week, told the Jewish News. “My life was saved, but my friends’ lives were not.”
As the horrifying details of the attacks emerged, Bronfman discovered that more and more people he knew or had met in Re’im had been killed. One of these was a DJ from the festival, whose last picture was taken while posing with the painting that Brofman did in Re’im.
“After that I started to paint,” he said. “I painted a lot of people who were murdered on canvas and I sent them to their families,” he said, adding that some were displayed at the victims’ funerals.
One person whose image he captured was the aforementioned DJ, Matan Elmalen, professionally known as ‘Kido’. Posting his depiction on Instagram, Brofman wrote: “As you watch over us all from above, your legacy will continue to grow. Shine On You Crazy Diamond. FOREVER KIDO.”
Soon afterwards Brofman began to paint the hostages, starting with a large mural he did in Haifa.
“Everyone saw it and talked about it and it reached lots of places all over the world,” he said.
The aim, he said, was to “express solidarity with the families and remind people that we must help them [the hostages] because they need us”. Next came another similar roadside mural on the road to Kibbutz Sarid close to his home in the north, as well as another on the side of a big truck which then travelled around the country.
This week Brofman has been collaborating with the Israeli Embassy in London to drive that message home in Britain.
Each mural has gone up on “public walls,” according to Brofman – areas where it is legal to paint.
His first creation in London emerged at Leake Street Arches in Waterloo last week, four hours after Brofman set to work at 6am. The result, a harrowing black and white picture of two kidnapped children clutching teddy bears and Israeli flags – separated by the all-important message “bring them home”.
“That same day I went to Camden Market and under the bridge I painted a big teddy bear against a backdrop of the Israeli flag, with ‘bring them home’,” he said.
Somebody later scrawled “Free Gaza” across the teddy bear’s tummy, but Brofman returned the following day to fix it.
The next day he set out for what he describes as “the queen of street art” – Allen Gardens in Shoreditch. There he transformed a pillar into perhaps the most chilling image of the hostages so far. A mother clasps her red headed baby to her chest, while her slightly older child cries nearby. It is an unmistakable image of hostages Shiri Bibas, 32, and her sons, Kfir, 10 months, and Ariel, four.
Bibas’ husband Yarden is also believed to have been abducted, while both her parents – Margit and Yossi Silverman – were killed by Hamas.
The murals have received much attention on social media. “I’ve seen a lot of positive messages,” said Brofman. “It’s bringing a lot of support to the Jewish community and Israelis here.”
Perhaps the most poignant of Brofman’s work has been his painting of Emily Hand, at a birthday party staged for her in London. Initially thought to have been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri, Hand is believed to be among the hostages in Gaza. Brofman was invited to paint a picture of the youngster outside the offices of Save the Children in London to mark her turning nine.
“It’s very emotional,” Brofman said of his work. “I have power. I’m not an artist – I’m a soldier and my gun is my spray can. I need to fight and to help the families of those who were murdered and of the hostages in Gaza.
“We can’t give up. Everyone must do what they need to do, even if it’s hard – and it is hard,” said Brofman, who last weekend flew to Berlin where he will continue to illustrate his message.
“I know what I need to do, so I must fight for them because if a ‘kid’ is fighting to save my life in Gaza, then I must do what I know how to do. This is the time that we must help each other, and it doesn’t matter how.”