First Published: 2017-03-20

Banksy West Bank hotel to receive first guests
'Walled off Hotel' next to Israel's apartheid wall, decorated by secretive British street artist, 'nearly totally booked for the next three months'.
Middle East Online

Waitress arranges keys in the Walled Off hotel

BETHLEHEM - Secretive British street artist Banksy's hotel next to Israel's controversial separation wall was due to welcome its first customers Monday, two weeks after its surprise launch.

The Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem is only four metres (yards) from the controversial wall which cuts through the occupied West Bank, and all the rooms face it.

The nine rooms, which Banksy described as having the "worst view of hotel in the world," range from $30 for a bunk bed in one room to $965 per night for the presidential suite.

Guests, who will each put down a $1,000 deposit to ward off theft of the dozens of new Banksy works on the walls, were due to start arriving early afternoon, hotel staff said.

Manager Wissam Salsaa said they were nearly totally booked for the next three months.

"We have arrivals today from six different countries, and I think most of our clients are flying just to stay here," he said.

He rejected criticism the prices were unaffordable for many Palestinians, saying they had nearly 50 staff to pay and any profits would go back into the community.

"Everyone that came here thinks this is the most amazing project," he said. "For letting the voice of the Palestinians be heard."

The hotel was announced unexpectedly at the beginning of the month and the artwork, Banksy's largest new collection in years, has been donated to the local community, the hotel's website says.

The artist closely protects his identity and was not in attendance at the launch.

The wall is one of the most striking symbols of Israel's 50-year occupation, and has become a major focus for demonstrations and artwork -- including by Banksy.

Israel refers to it as the security barrier and insists it is crucial for keeping out would-be attackers, but an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice declared it illegal in 2004.

The hotel's website encourages guests to explore the possibility of painting on the wall -- with a graffiti supplies store next door with "everything you need to make your mark".

There was no major launch party planned, with staff dressed in red waistcoats serving Walled-Off Salads and afternoon tea in the lobby.

A few tourists mulled around inspecting the gallery selling Palestinian art and a museum highlighting the history of the region.

Bea Kaufmann, a German living in the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv, said she had come with friends as she thinks it is "important to see the other side" of the conflict.

The rooms themselves have a deliberate faded luxury, with typical Banksy touches.

Above a bed in one room an Israeli soldier and Palestinian protester fight with pillows, while a television supposedly showing CNN is cracked and backwards.

In the presidential suite, a working jacuzzi is fed from a leaking water tank similar to those that adorn the roofs of many Palestinian homes.

- Museum, not gym -

The museum's curator, British professor Gavin Grindon, said earlier this month they wanted to highlight the negative impact of Western intervention.

"A lot of other hotels have a gym, this one has a museum."

"It is 100 years that British people have been coming here and making a bit of an imperial mess, from Tony Blair all the way back to Lord (Arthur) Balfour in 1917."

The Balfour Declaration, signed by then British foreign secretary Balfour in 1917, promised the Jews a homeland in what was then mandate Palestine.

The agreement is hailed by Israel as paving the way for its creation in 1948 and detested by Palestinians, who say it gave away their homeland.

Banksy has a long history in the Palestinian territories.

In February 2015, he allegedly sneaked into the Gaza Strip through a smuggling tunnel and painted three works on the walls of Gaza homes destroyed in Israeli air strikes during the previous year's conflict.

In 2007, he painted a number of artworks in Bethlehem, including a young girl frisking an Israeli soldier pinned up against a wall.

In 2005, he sprayed nine stencilled images at different locations along the eight-metre-high (27 foot) wall.

They included a ladder reaching over the wall, a young girl being carried over it by balloons and a window on the grey concrete showing beautiful mountains in the background.

His works, like elsewhere in the world, have become tourist attractions.

 

Britain raises terror alert, deploys troops after concert massacre

Qatar probes state news agency hack

Bahrain police open fire on Shiite protest, kill five

Turkey arrests hunger strikers on terror charges

Faz3a, a local NGO mobilising young people to help Mosul refugees

IS suicide bomber kills five in Somalia

At least 20 migrants killed in Mediterranean

Israeli joy at Trump visit lacks substance

Oman evacuates Australian man from Yemen

Jewish extremists ejected from Aqsa mosque compound

Prominent Egypt rights lawyer detained

Oil producers to extend output curbs at OPEC meeting

NATO aims to break Turkey-Austria partnership deadlock

Tunisia tensions simmer after protester's death

Terrorist bomb attack kills 22 at UK pop concert

Bahrain police raid Shiite sit-in killing one protester

Trump says Israelis, Palestinians ‘can make a deal’

Five dead in Syria car bomb attacks

Syria civilians suffer deadliest month of US-led strikes

US forces raid Al-Qaeda in Yemen, kill seven jihadists

Islamists to join Algeria cabinet despite poor results

Tunisia's 2.1% GDP growth marks economic upturn

Trump meets Palestinian leader in Bethlehem

Istanbul demolishes nightclub targeted in New Year attack

WHO says 315 cholera deaths in Yemen in under one month

Trump seeks Israeli-Palestinian peace, lashes out at Iran again

Tunisia police use tear gas on protesters

Palestinians protest for hunger-striking prisoners

GCC and Arab League call for Yemen unity

Turkey's alleged coup ringleaders stand trial

Iran’s reformists sweep to power across major cities

Israel makes concessions to Palestinians 'at Trump's request'

Ivanka hales Saudi progress on women’s rights

Looming showdown between Egypt’s president, judges

Netanyahu says will discuss peace efforts with Trump

Bahrain sentences Shiite cleric to suspended jail term

Trump scandals no issue for Saudi says minister

Saudi women celebrate easing of guardianship system, call for more freedoms

Hamas sentences three to death for commander assassination

Rouhani faces fight with hardliners in US, Iran after election win

Trump to urge Muslim leaders to fight extremism in major speech

Trump tells Sisi he will soon visit Egypt

US, Saudi agree arms deals worth almost $110 billion

Iran's Rouhani wins re-election

Egypt marks MS804 crash with ceremony and no information