BANKSY’S HOTEL IN BETHLEHEM
A small hotel with a view of a big wall
The famous and famously mysterious British graffiti artist Banksy has opened a hotel in Bethlehem. It faces an eight metre high wall constructed to prevent terrorists from entering the Israeli side of the West Bank. It is a surprising initiative and has intrigued many of its visitors.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — The two tourists were from Berlin, so they knew something about walls. There they sat, one with tea, another with cappuccino, on tasteful patio chairs, across an alley from the ugly 26-foot symbol of all that separates Israelis from Palestinians.
2. This section of the West Bank separation barrier was built 15 years ago, as violence raged. It is now a quiet tourist destination in the city where Jesus Christ was born: a hotel, gallery, museum, bookstore and spray paint shop by the elusive British artist Banksy. It is part whimsy and spectacle (note the plastic greeter chimp), part serious (note the very real Israeli security cameras). “Weird ,” one of the Berlin tourists, Nadja Miller, 38, said. “It’s voyeuristic. At the same time it raises awareness that it exists and discussion about it.”
3. It has been just over a month since Banksy opened the Walled Off Hotel here — and unsurprisingly it is proving popular: Its nine rooms are booked through June, for rates from $30 a night to $965 for the “presidential suite.” Some 700 people visit a day, the owner says, 200 of them Palestinian. Many arrive on tour buses passing through checkpoints.
4. Some art is meant to infl ict discomfort . Banksy’s hotel — which brags of the “worst view in the world” — falls clearly into that category, though visitors say the discomfort comes in awkward waves. There is the wall itself, endlessly debated over whether it comprises cell walls for Palestinians, a security measure that worked or 400 miles of proof of the failure of negotiations. That is enough for some visitors. “All the world must see what is happening in the West Bank,” said Emad Khleif, 50, a Palestinian banker who brought his family to visit from Nazareth. 5. But not all locals are happy with the hotel. (“Who is this for?” barked a Palestinian woman, Sowsan Hashem, 49, standing just outside.) Some foreign visitors said it made them a little queasy. Part of the blame might come from Banksy’s unsubtle, commercial style. Part is from a feeling of “oppression tourism,” which allows those who pay $20 or so to stencil political messages on the wall with spray paint. Part is that the hotel is just, well, pretty nice, given everything.
Banksy has a long history in Bethlehem.
6. Banksy has a long history in Bethlehem: Four well-known works are here, including “Girl and a Soldier,” and a dove protected by an armored vest. The artist has said that the separation barrier “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison,” though several emails sent to an address for Banksy were not answered. Yet he has not become an internal symbol of anti-Israeli activism, which is encountering growing legal resistance inside Israel.
A hotel employee opens the door for a visitor at The Walled Off Hotel, opposite the Israeli security barrier in Bethlehem, West Bank.