Artist Ziva Jelin points to a bullet-hole in her painting The Curving Road, part of damage it suffered on 7 October Photo: Zohar Shemesh, courtesy Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Art began disappearing from Israeli museum galleries on 7 October, the day that Hamas terrorists went on a murderous rampage that took around 1,200 lives and roughly 240 hostages, as institutions moved their collections into storage for safekeeping.
At the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that day and in the weeks since, archaeological and ancient artefacts began entering reinforced vaults for the first time since the Gulf War. It is therefore unusual now, as many Israeli museums remain shuttered and their walls bare, to install a painting.
On 12 November the Israel Museum hung a red-tinted landscape painting, The Curving Road (2010), by Ziva Jelin. It is part of an ongoing series that Jelin, a native of southern Israel’s Kibbutz Be’eri and the longtime director and senior curator of Be’eri Gallery, has worked on for the past decade. In the trilingual Hebrew, Arabic and English wall text accompanying the painting in the Israeli art wing, Jelin says of her colour choice that “red is a pure feeling. A hypnotic emotional power, passion and love.”
Red hue an eerie harbinger
Though not her original intention, the canvas’s hue, along with the damage it sustained on 7 October, now seem like harbingers of the catastrophe that occurred at Be’eri and neighbouring towns that day. “I chose a painting that was a landscape of the road leading to the kibbutz but looking toward the direction of Gaza,” says Amitai Mendelsohn, the senior curator and head of the museum’s Israeli art department, of his selection among the landscapes salvaged from Jelin’s studio. “This is probably the road where some of the terrorists came and entered the kibbutz.” Be’eri, which has become synonymous with the horrors of that day in Israeli consciousness, was one of the communities hardest hit by Hamas terrorists, with around 85 residents murdered (among them the prominent peace activist Vivian Silver) and roughly 25 taken hostage in a town of 1,200 people.
The Curving Road was damaged by a bullet hole and shrapnel from a hand grenade Hamas terrorists threw into Jelin’s studio. As the work was being installed at the museum on 12 November, Jelin said this damage “charges the artworks with additional meaning, it is pretty chilling”.
Jelin’s canvases survived, but the gallery she has curated and directed since 1994 did not. The building and the art in it were incinerated by Hamas on 7 October. Be’eri Gallery was founded in 1986 by the late Orit Svirsky (a victim of the 7 October attack) and was known for attracting prominent Israeli artists despite its distance from Israel’s cultural hubs. “Be’eri is quite far from the centre, but it was a very vibrant place for art,” Mendelsohn says.
Gallery finds temporary home in Tel Aviv
The gallery recently secured a space to operate temporarily in Tel Aviv as of 2024, for the next three years, in a move initiated by the Tel Aviv Municipality and other entities. The landlord will provide the space rent-free, and the municipality will forgo property tax.
In the meantime, the Janco-Dada Museum in the northern Israeli town of Ein Hod will host a re-creation of the photography exhibition that was on view at Be’eri Gallery on 7 October. A solo exhibition by Osnat Ben Dov titled Shadow of a Passing Bird, it includes still-lifes taken in the artist’s home. The accompanying artist books that Ben Dov produced have also been reprinted and the exhibition reopened to the public in Ein Hod in mid-November.
These combined institutional efforts to honour the art and legacy of Kibbutz Be’eri reflect a larger desire to help that community rebuild. “For the museum, this was a way for us to pay homage to people who were brutally murdered,” says Mendelsohn. “Our idea here was to show [the painting] in its damaged state, to show that art can be a way to give us strength to continue from this terrible time that we’re in.”
On 7 October Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel on a murderous rampage, killing more than 1,200 people and taking around 220 hostages. The Israeli military responded to these atrocities with a declaration of war against Hamas, launching airstrikes and placing Gaza under siege. According to the Hamas-run health ministry, more than 14,500 Palestinians have been killed—most of them civilians. Since a temporary ceasefire began on Friday 24 November, a total of 69 hostages have been freed by Hamas and 150 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.