A small ho­tel with a view of a big wall

Vocable (All English) - - La Une - IAN FISHER

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.

(Dan Balilty/ The New York Times)

A ho­tel em­ployee opens the door for a vis­i­tor at The Walled Off Ho­tel, op­po­site the Is­raeli se­cu­rity bar­rier in Beth­le­hem, West Bank.

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