Banksy opens hotel on Bethlehem barrier wall
British artist launches Walled Off Hotel in hope of bringing Israeli tourists – and dialogue – to West Bank city
There is unlikely to be much room for last-minute travellers at Bethlehem’s latest inn. The Walled Off Hotel might sound utilitarian, even bleak: 10 rooms nestled against the controversial barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.
But it offers travellers something much more elusive than the latest toiletries or a fancy spa. The lodging in the historic city is hotel, protest and art in one. It is the latest work of the British street artist Banksy.
The hotel, which was opened to the media on Friday, aims to bring jobs and tourists to a town whose pilgrim and sightseeing-based economy has been ravaged by ever tighter Israeli controls on travel between Israeli and Palestinian territories.
The artist, who fiercely guards his anonymity, also wants to spark dialogue, with his biggest target market not his legions of international fans, but young Israelis who might normally spend their weekends clubbing in Tel Aviv.
His support team insists the hotel is a real business venture, not an art stunt. Its nine rooms and one suite will be open for bookings on its website later this month.
There have been few reasons for Israelis to visit Bethlehem in recent years, because they are banned by law from visiting the town and all its main tourist sites.
But the hotel is located in an area just outside the town and still under Israeli control, and therefore legal for them to visit.
To encourage dialogue it will host exhibitions by Palestinians, giving artists who have few opportunities to travel a chance to reach international audiences. It will have a “colonial” theme, with chefs serving traditional afternoon tea to those who want a glimpse of the establishment.
Banksy generally avoids commenting on his work, saying he prefers to let the images speak for themselves, but the video ends with the camera lingering on an overtly political message, also spray-painted on to a wall: “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful – we don’t remain neutral.”
For all the fierce critique of Israeli policies, Banksy has focused on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. In the dystopian “bemusement” park Dismaland that he created in 2015, he displayed works by three Palestinian and three Israeli artists side by side.
That angered Shadi Alzaqzouq, one of the Palestinian artists, so much that he covered his work with a sheet on which he had written “RIP Gaza” before lying down for a “die-in” in front of the message. The sheet stayed up for the duration of the exhibition, with a notice explaining the protest.
Several photos on this twitter