British street artist Banksy has taken his activism to the extreme, opening a hotel nestled against the barrier wall that separates Israel from Palestine in Bethlehem, The Guardian reports. Seen as a West Bank response to Jerusalem's fancy Waldorf, the Walled Off hotel offers visitors “the worst view of any hotel in the world,” the owner says.
The ten rooms in the structure get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day and they all look out onto the concrete slabs of the controversial barrier wall. Some also offer travelers a glimpse over the wall and into an illegal Israeli settlement.
The structure envisioned by Banksy serves as more than lodging. Designed as a museum, gallery, and as a form of political protest, the Walled Off has everything from a lavish presidential suite — complete with hot tub that gets water from a bullet-strafed water tank — to a budget room furnished with bunk beds scavenged from abandoned army barracks. Original Banksy artworks also decorate several of the rooms.
In the hotel's gallery, Palestinian artists are also able to showcase their work. Since it's difficult for them to travel, this means that their art will have a wider audience. In the museum, visitors learn about the wall, the tragic and troubled history of the region, and the controls on Palestinian movement.
In a statement, Banksy says that while “[w]alls are in right now,” he was into them long before President Donald “Trump made it cool.” When explaining what his vision for the hotel was, he added that the structure was “a three-story cure for fanaticism, with limited car parking.”
Banksy took his first trip to Bethlehem over a decade ago, painting a series of pictures on the wall. His art has become a tourist destination over the years.
With the Israeli government tightening travel controls between Palestine and Israel even more over the past years, Bethlehem's economy — entirely based on sightseeing and pilgrimage — has been ravaged, The Guardian reports. With the establishment of the Walled Off, locals expect to see a boost in jobs as the number of visitors also rises.
Set to open its doors to guests on March 20, the hotel team wants Israelis to see the wall up close. They hope the extra incentive of having the hotel serve as a museum of Banksy's work will make them visit Palestinian towns more often. Their hopes may not be fulfilled, The Guardian notes, since visiting Palestine means breaking the law.
Currently, the roads that lead to the Walled Off are off limits to Israelis, but the hotel is located on a site that is officially under Israeli military control, giving Israeli visitors the opportunity to stay at the location.
Speaking about why he's opening this hotel now, Banksy said that “[i]t's exactly 100 years since Britain took control of Palestine and started rearranging the furniture — with chaotic results.”
“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.”
To Palestinians who have lost their property and rights over the decades, having someone putting so much effort and dedication into making others aware of their plight is sure to be a welcome change.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Ammar Awad