In Bethlehem, the Walled Off Hotel offers the most unexpected rooms with a view in the Middle East. Have a seat, relax and explore the concrete border barrier separating the Palestinian West Bank from Israel… With a telescope. The structure welcomes visitors of all nationalities and faiths into art-filled bedrooms and a tea shop featuring artworks by Banksy. The first floor hosts also an art gallery focusing on local artists and a graffiti supplies store.
Banksy visited Bethlehem in 2005 and 2007 where he created politically charged works using his trademark stencils. The “all-inclusive vandals resort” – as the anonymous artist describes it – is an “open-hearted community resource” which is not allied to any political party or pressure group and “it is open to Israelis and Palestinians alike”.
The interiors are inspired by English gentlemen’s clubs and aim to highlight Britain’s (disastrous) role in the region during the colonial period. You can find CCTV cameras mounted on walls like hunting trophies and stencil artworks with antique frames. Statues choking on teargas and dystopian oil paintings refer to images recently seen in the media reporting the troubled relation between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.
“It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started rearranging the furniture – with chaotic results,” explains Banksy. The artist has been very critic about recent UK national and international politics, including both Brexit and the more recent snap elections.
“I don’t know why, but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences.”
All bedrooms and corridors feature artworks by Banksy and other artists such as Sami Musa and Dominique Petrin. Windows boasts floor to ceiling views of graffiti-strewn concrete from almost every room. On the first floor an art gallery curated by Ismal Duddera showcases Arab contemporary art pieces with a focus on local artists.
A “walled” lift shows the sign ‘out of service’. The Hotel rises at the heart of a political charged area which is safely and easily accessible by both Israelis and Palestinians. The resort works as an independent local business: “The aim is to break even and put any profits back into local projects.” Say at the Walled Off Hotel.
Israel-Palestine border wall is a military structure over 700km long built by the Israeli government. It encloses Palestine and annexes parts of its land. Depending on who you talk to it’s either a vital security measure or an instrument of apartheid. Its route is highly controversial and it has a strong impact on the daily lives of a lot of people.
All images courtesy of the Walled Off Hotel.