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Banksy's new project tells the story of Palestine

Banksy’s controversial new hotel and museum in Bethlehem is more than just an interactive art gallery: it also, in the British street artist’s inimitable style, lays out the history of Palestine.

By Dalal Erakat

Greek statue choking on teargas in the lobby of The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, March 3, 2017. (Haggai Matar)

Greek statue choking on teargas in the lobby of The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, March 3, 2017. (Haggai Matar)

“Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.” These are the words of Saul Bellow, the late Canadian-American writer. They resonate today in Palestine, in the midst of chaos and between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, at Banksy’s new hotel and museum.

As you walk down Caritas Street, your eyes will see a dead end: the huge separation wall stands tall, and runs so far along Palestinian land that you won’t be able to see where it ends. This scene will only bring fear, pain and a feeling of deadlock. As you look to your left, you will be surprised to see a “chimpanzee” carrying a suitcase and holding a bell in his right hand. You will then spot the doorman, dressed in an appealing British style. On the walls of the old building, you will start to take in the drawings and flowers covering the façade of The Walled Off Hotel.

As the door opens and you pass through the velvet curtain, you will find yourself in a lobby with beautiful chairs. You will imagine yourself in a haunted house with a black piano playing music by itself.

As you look up, you will notice baby angels flying around wearing gas masks, protecting themselves from suffocating teargas. This image transports us back to the streets, to our attempts to flee Israeli teargas. And you will stop at the dove of peace arrested in a white cage near the door, suffering all kinds of intimidation; this is the image of Palestinian freedom behind bars.

As you approach the museum, you will blink at the joy of kids swinging on a huge carousel attached to the top of the surveillance tower installed along the illegal separation wall, smiling in their search for freedom. You will then pass millions of dollars’ worth of portraits until you arrive at the museum’s starting point, which will take you back to 1917 — where Lord Balfour himself sits behind his nice wooden desk, signing the declaration which marks its centenary this year.

A member of staff next to a Banksy creation in The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, March 3, 2017. (Haggai Matar)

A member of staff next to a Banksy creation in The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, March 3, 2017. (Haggai Matar)

Dear readers, here Banksy starts telling the story of Palestine, from Balfour’s office to a rich introduction to Israeli martial law, accompanied by an audio-visual presentation witnessing a hundred years of facts. Surrounded by all sizes and colors of banners welcoming you to Palestine, you will find yourself in the era of the separation wall; in order for the visitor to comprehend the situation, a screening of the movie “Five Broken Cameras” explains the scenes of land, olives, bulldozers and then the creation of what are known as settlements, or colonial installations. Call them whatever you want, the fact is that they robbed the land.

One meter away, you answer the phone attached to the wall: “This is the Israeli officer giving you 5 minutes to evacuate your house, the Israeli forces will bomb your home.” Now you are in Gaza, and you will pass the remaining rubble, the injured children, the devastation and the stolen human lives. That moment will throw you back to summer 2014, and you will remember two years of destruction and deep pain.

The visit does not end here. As you walk out of the museum, you will pass by bookshelves loaded with books; suddenly, the shelves move, a hidden door opens, and you will think you are in the haunted house again, or perhaps in Buckingham Palace in London.

Going upstairs and entering the bedroom, your emotions will be confused as you take in the beauty of the colors and finely-designed leather curtains, while your head thinks back to the Israeli jail and to the unfairness of the reality we live in.

In another bedroom, you will see a “broken” television screen with CNN broadcasting breaking news from our part of the brutal world. On the walls, more paintings reflect oppression and hope at the same time.

Banksy artwork in The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, March 3, 2017. (Haggai Matar)

Banksy artwork in The Walled Off Hotel, Bethlehem, March 3, 2017. (Haggai Matar)

One floor up in the hidden hotel behind the bookshelves, you will enter the hotel’s suite bedroom; in the middle is a beautiful jacuzzi. As you step nearer, you will see holes in the container from snipers’ shots, and the water will start to leak through them.

In a guestbook, I expressed my pride in this museum — this is the Palestine that we need to promote, using culture, art and facts. Thanks to artist Wissam Salsaa, the Palestinian who partnered with Banksy, the scenes linger on in your mind long after the visit — and one visit is not enough, for the hotel is packed with details.

This is an open invitation to go and experience The Walled Off Hotel, telling the story of Palestine. You will not be disappointed.

Dalal Erakat, is an assistant professor of Diplomacy & Conflict Resolution at the Arab American University and Birzeit University in Palestine. She writes a weekly column with Al-Quds Daily Newspaper, and has a PhD in Public Administration from Paris I Sorbonne, an MA in Diplomatic Studies from Westminster University in London, and a Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Jordan.

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    COMMENTS

    1. R5

      Bansky is a businessman, single-handedly responsible for the Disneyfication of street art. Everything is mass-appeal, everything is shallow, everything is designed to maximize publicity. That he’s chosen to cash in on the Is/Pal conflict with such a monumental act of exploitation should concern Palestinians more than anything else. This mean your radical chic brand is on the decline. This guy sees that the price of your stock is at its apex, and he wants to squeeze the orange dry. The Walled Off Hotel is an act that nobody can follow, and that nobody will want to follow.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        A critique by an Zionist extremist who under various pen names has dumped his BS on this site for years, well, what to say other than no sane Palestinian couldn’t care less about what you think of Banksy or anything else related to Palestine.

        Reply to Comment
        • R5

          @Baladi Akka 1948: What about the Palestinian couple who opened a Banksy-themed hotel down the street? Read the story – he gave them his blessing during his first visit to Bethlehem and then apparently forgot about them entirely. They’re worried this new stunt will put them out of business. Banksy is a world class dick. Even to the poor Palestinians he takes pity on and claims to care about.

          Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          @Baladi

          By your own theories, you aren’t Palestinian you are fully French.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Once again you deny the heritage of someone who disagrees with your BS. And by your own theories you are an ASSHOLE.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Carmen

            Me thinks you didn’t follow the argument before and don’t know what you are talking about. Why jump in here when he is caught in a contradiction. And where does the “once again” come from?

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            “@Baladi

            By your own theories, you aren’t Palestinian you are fully French.” Seriously? You just jumped back on these boards recently but damn you presume way too much here too. Why do you presume Baladi is a man? Stupid.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB

            @Carmen

            That’s not an answer to where “once again” comes from. That was a pretty simple question. So try again.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            You make assumptions and come to conclusions about people that stem from arrogance and the need for attention. That covers it.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        My god, EVERYTHING to you guys is the cynical corruption of “cashing in” and funding and publicity and radical chic fashion. Everything! One cranky cynical all-purpose explanation for all things in life!

        Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        “Everything is mass-appeal, everything is shallow, everything is designed to maximize publicity.” A spot-on description of tRUMP.

        Reply to Comment
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