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Iranian-American unveils mural honoring Jewish and Iranian women

“Israel is the only country in the Middle East standing with the women fighting for freedom in Iran,” says the artist.

The mural created by Hooman Khalili is seen in Safed. Credit: Courtesy.
The mural created by Hooman Khalili is seen in Safed. Credit: Courtesy.

Iranian-American artist Hooman Khalili has unveiled a new mural in the Galilee city of Safed honoring four Persian and Israeli women killed or injured by the Islamic Republic in Iran or by its proxy Hamas in Israel.

The symbolic painting, meant to highlight the historical connection between the Jewish people and Iranian women, was unveiled two months after Iran fired more than 300 missiles and drones in an unprecedented direct attack on the Jewish state and as the war against the Iranian-backed Hamas in Gaza rages for a ninth month.

The Iranian-born artist’s mural depicts two Israeli soldiers of Persian heritage killed by Hamas during the Oct. 7 massacre, which triggered the war, alongside a Kurdish-Iranian icon who was beaten to death by the Islamic regime, and an Iranian woman who was blinded by Iranian authorities during an anti-government demonstration.

Titled “Woman, Life, Freedom,” the rallying cry against oppression and for women’s rights, in English, Hebrew and Persian, the mural of the four women reads: “Esthers of the World Rise Up.”

It features Sahar Saudyan, a 21-year-old IDF captain from Rosh Ha’ayin who was killed during the Hamas onslaught while operating an Iron Dome anti-missile battery in southern Israel; Staff Sgt. Shirel Haim Pour, a 20-year-old from Rishon Leztion killed when Hamas terrorists overran the Nahal Oz military base near the Gaza Strip; Iranian Mahsa Amini, who became an icon for oppressed women around the world as news spread of her death after being arrested by Iranian morality police for “improperly” wearing her hijab two years ago; and Elahe Tavakolian, who was shot in the eye and blinded during nationwide protests in Iran in September 2022 against Amini’s death in custody.

“I want to show that the Jews in Israel are standing with the women of Iran,” Khalili told JNS over the weekend. “The images honor two Persian Jews who fell on Oct. 7 and the brave women of Iran who have stood up to their oppressive regime, and the connection and love between the people of Iran and the people of Israel.”

‘Our two nations’

Iranian-born Helen Saudyan, whose daughter is memorialized in the mural, told JNS in an interview on Sunday, “It is especially moving that someone who is from Iran is commemorating Jewish Israeli soldiers in an effort to bring our two nations closer together again.”

Saudyan had reached out to the artist after hearing about him on TV. “This is an extraordinary project,” she said.

Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Israel and Iran were allies.

The mural, which went up earlier this month at a public shelter in Safed, also features four angels holding back the four winds, a motif associated with the city.

“There is a history of the people of Israel and the people of Iran having a loving relationship, and this is a reminder of our common bond and friendship,” said Shayna Paquin, a Safed resident whose volunteer nonprofit, Sparks to Life, raised funds for the shelter and 10 others in the city in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County in Florida and Operation Lifeshield, an NGO that provides air-raid shelters for threatened communities.

“It is especially significant for us that this painting went up at a shelter because my sister’s whole military service was to safeguard civilians [with the Iron Dome],” said Sahar Saudyan’s sister, Stav.

The painting is Khalili’s 12th mural in Israel, with two additional ones hanging in California.

“Israel is the focus of my work as the only country in the Middle East standing with the women fighting for freedom in Iran,” he said.

The artist was 3 years old when his mother fled Iran with him a year before the Islamic Revolution. He was adopted by the First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and subsequently converted to Christianity.

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