Since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, which began with daily airstrikes on the coastal territory, iconic images of plumes of gray and black smoke rising into the sky have become ubiquitous in media reports on the conflict.

For some creative Palestinians, the photos have served as an inspiration to find images of people and animals lurking in the smoke — as well as messages of criticism against Israeli aggression and hope for peace, mingled with sorrow for the Palestinian victims.

One artist, 25-year-old Hebron graphic designer Bushra Shanan, told Jenin-based journalist Rahma Mahmoud that when she looked at the smoke rising over the destroyed buildings in the photos, she saw “the faces of the people” who had been killed in the strikes. So she decided to edit an image of a large cloud of smoke to show the faces of over a dozen babies.

Over another plume of smoke, Shanan drew the outline of family of three — hijab-clad mother, father and child. Another, larger cloud inspired her to draw an entire forest scene, replete with lions and wolves, while a fourth — of a large black cloud of smoke looming over a smaller, white one — looked to her like a man towering over a woman in white.

Shanan told Mahmoud that she initially undertook the project because the fighting in Gaza made her feel helpless, and wanted to use her knowledge of graphic design to send out a political message and express the plight felt by the Palestinians. The smoke, Mahmoud adds, was already there.

“I want to draw people’s attention to what is happening in Gaza, especially those abroad, who probably do not know anything,” said Shanan.

Another artist, Gaza-based photographer Belal Khaled, who works for the Turkish Anadolu news agency, posted his own take on the smoke on his Facebook page.

One large cloud of smoke was turned by Khaled into a collage of symbols associated with the Palestinian national struggle: a family of three looking eastward, the mother’s flowing hair replaced by the unmistakable pattern of a keffiyeh. Underneath their heads, the outlines of both the Aqsa Mosque and Israeli separation barrier can be seen amid the smoke. Above their heads are the words “freedom” — accompanied by a key, symbolizing the Palestinians’ demand for a right of return into Israel — and “victory,” accompanied by the V sign.

In a second instance, Khaled drew the outline of a clenched fist around a tall cloud, with a lighter plume curving inward serving as the thumb. In another, he saw the outline of an old man turning his hopeful gaze east — away from Gaza, toward Israel and the West Bank. In a fourth, he envisioned two smoke-gray horses rising over Gaza.

He wasn’t the only one: another Gazan artist, Tawfik Gebreel, also envisioned a white horse rising above Gaza within a cloud of dark grey smoke.