The world famous graffitist is using his fame and fortune to challenge hegemony on the West Bank, notes Kara Bryan
Anonymous graffiti artist and activist Banksy revealed his latest jaw-dropping installation to the world’s media this week; a fully functioning colonial-themed hotel next to the illegal barrier wall in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, poignantly opening on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
The hotel ironically named ‘The Walled-Off’ is adjacent to the controversial barrier wall separating Israeli and Palestinian territories. The hotel, which aims to bring employment and tourism to the ravaged Palestinian economy, boasts a modest ten bedrooms featuring original Banksy exhibits as well as “the worst view in the world.”
The hotel’s colonial style references Britain’s former occupation of Palestine. Politically charged artwork adorns the hotel’s interior throughout, including seascapes alluding to the thousands of drowned refugees, direct references to the Apartheid wall outside and a mural of a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier engaged in a pillow fight.
The project was shrouded in secrecy. With the exception of hotel management, staff were kept completely in the dark as to the identity of their new boss.
The hotel which is set to open on 20 March and is staffed entirely by Palestinians and has already been inundated with bookings. Most of the West Bank is off-limits to Israelis but the Walled-Off Hotel is situated under Israeli control and Banksy hopes that allowing Israelis to visit will promote much needed dialogue.
According to Banksy’s website the hotel’s opening party is on 4 March and boasts Sir Elton John among the guests, which will be strictly ‘locals and invite only’. DJ Fatboy Slim will make an appearance at a launch street party on 13 March.
Banksy has been a frequent visitor to Palestine since his first visit over a decade ago, painting nine murals on the West Bank wall, each creating the optical illusion of a beckoning paradise on the other side. For which, he received wide international acclaim for his work highlighting the plight of Palestinians and their maltreatment by occupation forces.
Shortly after the Israeli onslaught ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014, Banksy was smuggled into Gaza where he painted a number of celebrated pieces among the ruins of the city, including a mural of children swinging on a watch tower, an interpretation of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker,’ in which the subject, rather than posed resting on his hands in thought, is depicted covering his face in despair and a representation of mythical Greek goddess Niobe weeping for her murdered children.
But perhaps the most recognisable piece is the mural of a white kitten. When asked asked by a bewildered Palestinian resident what it meant, Banksy is reputed to have replied it was for the people on social media ‘who only look at pictures of kittens.’
No doubt Banksy’s credibility with fans and art lovers alike will keep the hotel booked year round. Fans will be delighted by the opportunity to stay at the iconic hotel and take in the exhibits and enjoy guided ‘Banksy tours.’ But the Israeli government will be less than thrilled. Much to the delight of Palestinian rights campaigners, Banksy’s new ‘installation’ has catapulted Israel and her defenders into the media spotlight prompting unwelcome questions about illegal settlements and the controversial barrier wall.
And as ever, Banksy’s timing is immaculate. This year marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in which Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild, the unofficial leader of the British Jewish community, to convey that His Majesty’s Government would look favourably upon the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine on the pre-condition that nothing would be done that would ‘prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities...’ It is a condition that was quickly forgotten and one that has yet to be remembered by Her Majesty’s government.
Theresa May this week outraged civil rights activists and Palestinian solidarity groups by declaring that Britain will be ‘proudly’ remembering the Balfour Declaration in its centenary. Evidently, she does not intend to remember the pre-condition of the Balfour Declaration, nor does she intend to remember Israel’s appalling record of human rights abuse, murder and illegal land appropriation any more than she intends to criticise any of Britain’s other ‘allies’ committing human rights abuses around the world. Fortunately, the illusive artist has just refreshed the world’s memory, quipping, “Walls are hot right now, but I was into them long before Trump!’
Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War
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