The Broken Fingaz Crew (BFC) is Israel’s most well-known graffiti collective worldwide. Founded in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in 2001, the crew is made up of artists UngaTant, and Deso and works across mediums – from bold street art, animation, graphic design to clothing and production under the label Ghostown to music video art directing and production design. The BFC is world-famous and has collaborated on elaborate art murals across the globe as well as exhibitions and videos for international performers (like U2).

Broken Fingaz’s Railways piece in Haifa. Photo by Shachaf Rodberg

In 2017, BFC launched the Walls Festival under the Ghostown label and as part of the first edition, urban artists were invited to create pieces in the narrow streets and allies of downtown Haifa. The crew itself also worked on a few pieces including “Railways” on Ha’Namal street – a powerful statement on history, culture, Israel, and the wider Middle East. In celebration of the Jewish holidays, we wanted to take a quick minute to unpack it. For “Railways” – usually the finale of our Haifa graffiti tour – BFC collaborated with calligraphy artist Ahmad Zoabi on concept and execution. Together, they came up with a nostalgic view of the time when the city of Haifa was part of a wider region, the greater Middle East, under Ottoman rule.

Railway station of the Hejaz railway in Haifa
Railway station of the Hejaz railway in Haifa

The city, after all, was connected to Hejaz Railways in the early 1900s, a narrow-gauge railway that ran from Damascus to Medina through the Hejaz region in Saudi Arabia, with a branch line to Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea. Hejaz Railways was part of the Ottoman railway network and the Haifa to Deraa (Syria) line (which became known as the Valley Train after the Jezreel Valley) connected the Port of Haifa with the main part of the railway, the Damascus–Medina line. The main purpose was to build a connection between the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, and the Hejaz region in Saudia Arabia which is home to the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina. The line however reached no further than Medina, 400 kilometers short of Mecca, due to the outbreak of World War I. The proximity of BFC’s Railways to the actual train line in Haifa today makes this piece a classic site-specific artwork, which carries a unique meaning in relation to its physical location.

פסטיבל קירות בתחתית בחיפה, צילום עדי אביקזר (6)
Photo by Adi Avikzer

There is classic BFC esthetic in this piece: very colorful, ornamental and with an emphasis on calligraphy in all three languages – Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The work bears the names in Arabic of the cities that were once connected through the Hejaz train – Haifa, Amman, Damascus and Beirut. An ornamental design on the bottom of the piece, called a Damascus pattern, is common in textile design and can be found on old tiles from the time including in old Arab houses in the area to this day. There is also an excellent use of the wall’s structure as a train cart as the little openings are transformed into actual cart windows. There are also different “vintage” elements in this piece such as the image of old train tickets on the left side. The artists used a projector to complete the piece and it took them about a week to do it.

Former Haifa mayor Hassan Bey Shukri. Photo via Wikimedia/public domain

The Turkish-looking, fez-donning character on the right might just be a made-up person, but we suspect it is actually a reference to Hassan Bey Shukri, the mayor of Haifa in times when the Hejaz train passed through the city and the whole region was different.

We’re holding our Haifa graffiti tours during the festival of Sukkot in two weeks so if you’re interested to hear more and see the rest of Haifa’s street art scene, you’re welcomed to join us. Dates will be posted on our Facebook page and Instagram account.

We wish you happy holidays and a great Jewish new year to those celebrating from all of us at Alternative Tel Aviv.