“I want to go home,” pleads three-year-old Yahel Shoham – one of dozens of Israeli children held captive by Hamas – in a haunting video currently being shared on social media.
But Yahel did not make the video from her captivity in Gaza. Instead, it is the work of a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the 38 children and 200 others who were snatched away in the massive October 7 terror attack carried out by Hamas in Israel, which killed 1,200 people and wounded thousands more.
The Be Their Voice campaign, which calls for the immediate release of these hostages, uses artificial intelligence to animate still images of the captives, bringing their photos to life and giving them a chance to beg the world for their release.
The campaign was initiated by AI expert Shiran Mlamdovsky Somech and activist Danielle Ofek, in cooperation with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, director and creative manager Tal Harary and her creative partner Mor Biran Morag.
The families of the hostages also played a key role in the creation of the campaign. And despite their torment and the sensitivity of the situation amid international efforts to free the hostages, they believe it can raise awareness of the horrors their loved ones have been experiencing for the past five weeks.
“The children who have been kidnapped cannot speak or make their voices heard on their own,” says Mlamdovsky Somech.
“We are their voices.”
Mlamdovsky Somech, a high-tech entrepreneur who uses AI to create projects with social impact, launched the campaign after she was asked to raise awareness of the hostage crisis.
She had previously initiated the Listen To Our Voices campaign, which similarly brought to life still images of Israeli domestic abuse victims to share their stories with the aim of preventing further violence.
The Be Their Voice campaign was launched two weeks ago with a video of Yahel’s older brother, eight-year-old Nave, who has also been kidnapped by Hamas.
In the video, Nave talks about how much he misses his friends and playing soccer.
To create the videos for the two siblings, Mlamdovsky Somech first contacted their family to ask for their consent and to get a better understanding of the siblings’ personalities in order to make the videos more lifelike.
Artificial intelligence was used to create facial expressions that were then mapped onto the static images of the hostages, and the words spoken were delivered by voice actors.
The Israeli company that developed the AI used in the project wished to remain anonymous.
According to Mlamdovsky Somech, the campaign has greatly increased awareness of the plight of the hostages in Gaza. Furthermore, she says, reactions to both videos have been very positive and with little hostility.
She says that other initiatives have played a large part in increasing Israeli advocacy during wartime, but Be Their Voice creates more empathy for the hostages.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletterSubscribe
“It is letting those that have been taken hostage speak for themselves,” she explains.
Since its launch, the campaign has successfully drawn media attention both in Israel and abroad. And Mlamdovsky Somech has been interviewed about it in numerous outlets and in multiple languages.
These outlets include the i24 news channel, which broadcasts in French, Arabic and English, and the Times of India, the fourth-largest newspaper in the country of 1.4 billion people and the best-selling English-language daily in the world.
While Mlamdovsky Somech is appreciative of the media coverage, she says she has been most heartened by the reactions of the families to the campaign.
Nave and Yahel’s grandfather, Gilad Korngold, has been a major supporter of the campaign since it launched, and has even been promoting the two videos himself.
“The animation video of Nave hits like an arrow to the heart,” Korngold said when the campaign first aired two weeks ago.
“If only we could hug our Nave, hear his heartfelt laughter, and listen to what he is going through. But we haven’t been able to do it for three weeks already,” he said.
“As Nave’s voice is not heard, we need to be his voice. In every way possible.”
The murderous attack of October 7 has devastated the family. Korngold’s son Tal and daughter-in-law Adi – Nave and Yahel’s parents – were also abducted to Gaza.
Adi’s mother Shoshan Haran, aunt Sharon Avigdori, and 12-year-old cousin Noam Avigdori were also abducted. Adi’s father Avshalom, his sister Lilach Kipnis and her husband Eviatar were murdered by the terrorists.
The team has just released a German version of the campaign – both Yahel and Nave have German citizenship – and translation into other languages is planned for the future.
Mlamdovsky Somech says that since the campaign launched, families members of other Israelis held in Gaza have asked her to make videos of their own loved ones.
“It’s really important to their families [and] that’s what makes these campaigns worth making,” she says.
“This is the power of the campaign, to give the people who cannot be heard the ability to speak, and say ‘I want to go home’.”