Banksy’s ‘Walled Off Hotel’ is a form of gentrification

Israel/Palestine
on 19 Comments

Anonymous British street artist Banksy just opened “The Walled Off Hotel” four yards from Israel’s apartheid wall in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. It is marketed as the hotel with “the worst view in the world.”

The hotel is only Banksy’s latest artwork in the occupied Palestinian territories. He made his first mark on the wall in 2005, when he painted nine scenes that depict trompe l’oeil escapes from dust and cement to blue skies and green landscape. Banksy also snuck into the Gaza Strip ten years later, after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge leveled and devastated the territory, leaving in its wake a death toll of more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians. On this latter trip, Banksy painted murals amongst the razed infrastructure and made a two-minute satirical video that advertises Gaza as a unique travel destination while drawing attention to Israel’s siege and violence on the open-air prison.

While Banksy’s new hotel has drawn much praise from the international community for its initiative to attract tourists to the West Bank and educate them through space as a medium and an object of art, I would like to push against that and offer my two cents on the classic quasi-masturbatory nature of war tourism and art, and its unsurprising prevalence in the Palestinian Question.

This found art capitalizes on an occupation of a people that was founded by and maintained through violence; violence is thus its bedrock. Palestinian suffering becomes an exhibit to a very specific class of tourists who are able to enter the West Bank—to begin with—essentially reproducing the image of struggle in landscape and completely robbing it of its ability to speak for itself. It normalizes its public image and renders it pornographic, educational, amusing, and excessive. The initiative thrives on the continual existence of such violence, and therefore, through the artistic statement, ensures its eternity. The exhibit depends on the maintenance of apartheid, effectively rooting for its prolonged, permanent existence. The hotel begs the presence of the wall.

Guest room in the Walled Off Hotel. (Photo: The Walled Off Hotel)

While the hotel is oiled with political commentary through its grotesque view of the wall and its militarized aesthetic and charged artwork, it fails to make any official political statement that recognizes the perpetual current of ethnic cleansing manifesting itself in the illegal occupation, Israeli apartheid, and the continued demolition and annexation of Palestinian land.

In a statement, or a disclaimer, placed at the museum’s entrance inside of the hotel, Banksy writes:

“You made it! Welcome to the West Bank – a place steeped in history and conflict. Now might seem a good time to pick a side – except don’t. The Wall is a lie. It sells the idea there is a simple divide between the people here, but there isn’t. Most Palestinians live in great disadvantage to their neighbors. Many Israelis are opposed to the cruelties inflicted by the wall, but other Israelis are deeply fearful for their security. This exhibition looks at the wall from many angles, and so contains material some people may find upsetting.”

Not only does Banksy’s language undermine the Palestinian struggle and reduce it to a mere “disadvantage” in comparison to Israelis, but it also encourages this false non-partisan silence when it comes to the Palestinian Question, falsely depoliticizing it and misleading his guests into assuming this pseudo-neutrality, and effectively siding with the oppressor. It encourages a veiled forgiving attitude towards what is, in fact not “a simple divide between the people,” as Banksy writes. Rather, it is simple and present and material.

Contrary to Banksy’s statement, this “simple divide “is not a “lie” but a very material illegal barrier wall that in its total constructed and projected length reaches 440 miles (708 km), with 62 percent of it already erect, isolating and annexing large chunks of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Banksy’s lack of a political commentary is a statement of its own, an audacious exploitation of Palestinian suffering that manages to negate it and market it as art.

The consumers of such a commodity are those who are able to enter the territory, a discriminatory process of its own. Banksy makes no mention of the Palestinian refugee population in the diaspora that can never visit his hotel, furthering the motif of only being interested in those who can travel to see the display. In the FAQ section on Banksy’s website for the hotel, entry into Israel is addressed:

“Do I need a VISA?

You don’t need a visa to enter Israel as a tourist and you can stay for up to 3 months. Visitors entering via Tel Aviv airport are given an entry card in their passport. So, unlike the locals, you’ll be permitted to travel wherever you wish.

Airport security at Tel Aviv, however, is legendary. Expect to be asked about the purpose of your stay and if you intend travelling to the West Bank. If you answer ‘yes’ you may be held up for some time, consequently many visitors choose not to highlight that particular part of their holiday.”

It would have been productive and crucial for Banksy to fulfill his educational mission and make mention of the millions of Palestinians in diaspora, unable to return to their homeland. This monumental experiment with a site drenched in biblical and contemporary history in the making dismisses the reality of living in those circumstances today. In a commentary on geography, another question on the page reads:

“Why open a hotel there? What’s wrong with Shoreditch?

This place is the center of the universe – every time God comes to earth it seems to happen near here. The architecture and landscape are stunning, the food delicious and the current situation remarkable and touching. This is a place of immense spiritual and political significance – and very good falafel. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed*. 

**not actually legally enforceable”

Banksy’s hotel is a form of gentrification that exploits Palestinian suffering and imposes an “art space” that thrives on fulfilling an example of white fantasy in travel, in order to witness war zones as an educational and historical amusement when in fact it is very present and happening in real-time. As usual, Palestinians are once again denied the agency to speak of their own suffering. There is an orientalist notion in this denial. And it renders visiting the site a form of rejuvenation, regeneration.

I will conclude with Mahmoud Darwish’s line from his beloved poem, “Passport.” He writes:

“And to them my wound was an exhibit, for a tourist who loves to collect photographs.”

About Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is a Palestinian freelance writer, and former editorial intern for Mondoweiss and In These Times. Her work has been featured or referenced in Palestine in America, Hyperallergic, Atlantic Publication City Lab, and others. She is currently based in Chicago, IL.

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19 Responses

  1. Steve Macklevore
    March 6, 2017, 2:32 pm

    Oh please!

    An artist produces art. That’s what artists do.

    As for nonsense that “The exhibit depends on the maintenance of apartheid, effectively rooting for its prolonged, permanent existence,” anyone who examines Banksy’s art in Palestine for more than a few moments will see that he’s deeply sympathetic towards the Palestinian cause, and his artwork has been an embarrassment to the Israeli government.

    As we all know, the occupation has been going on for 50 years, and the conflict for much longer than that. We face the slickest most well funded propaganda machine ever.

    Anything that challenges that hasbara machine, that breaks through the activist/sympathiser bubble and reaches a wider audience must be welcomed. And gentrification be damned.

  2. spokelse
    March 6, 2017, 4:06 pm

    Mostly agree with Steve Macklevore, the only issue for me is the non-statement statement at the entrance to the exhibit/protest site. Otherwise, this is obviously not a way to normalize the occupation. The writer reports what Banksy has been doing for over a decade but there is NO commentary regarding that in her piece (more than passing strange), so she is eliding the obvious context under which Banksy is working. Further, every issue doesn’t have to be represented or dealt with in this exhibition/installation, the fact that this is occurring at all is extremely uncommon.

  3. just
    March 6, 2017, 5:14 pm

    OK.

    I am already very informed about the “Palestinian struggle” for freedom, justice, security and RoR, etc. I have been speaking, reading, and advocating for all of those rights for all of my adult life~ starting in my teens. I’ll never give up.

    Banksy’s hotel is a welcome invitation to travelers to have ‘the’ conversation, imho. Think of all of the Christian Zionists that might actually book a room in Bethlehem. His art has always drawn curious and appreciative folks and that is what Palestine and the Palestinians need. More informed people and advocates are better than fewer, n’est ce pas?

    I want to stay there one day.

  4. Annie Robbins
    March 6, 2017, 7:54 pm

    It encourages a veiled forgiving attitude towards what is, in fact not “a simple divide between the people,” as Banksy writes. Rather, it is simple and present and material.

    Contrary to Banksy’s statement, this “simple divide “is not a “lie”

    but Banksy’s statement didn’t call the wall a “simple divide”, he said the wall “sells the idea there is a simple divide … but there isn’t.”

    i also do not think he reduced the Palestinian struggle to:

    a mere “disadvantage” in comparison to Israelis

    when, in fact, he called it a “great disadvantage”. “mere” and “great” having opposite connotations.

    i think it’s fair to critique the project with less than glowing appraisal if you don’t like it, but i’d emphasize accuracy in characterizing his words. some may be left up to interpretation, others not so much.

    encourages this false non-partisan silence when it comes to the Palestinian Question, falsely depoliticizing it and misleading his guests into assuming this pseudo-neutrality, and effectively siding with the oppressor.

    i didn’t interpret it as such.

    as for the colonial nature, it being the centenial year of the signing of the balfour it’s my understanding the project will be up for one year — and then after that who knows. but it’s an art project, a living installation. it’s supposed to make the guests feel uncomfortable. that is (often) what art does and is supposed to do.

    as far as the allegation the project “capitalizes” on the occupation, it draws attention to it yes. it would probably take quite a long time to financially profit off it since the expense to install it was likely costly. i sincerely doubt his intent was to make money off his art and he mentioned it’s been “donated to the community and their struggle & any person found attempting to steal from them, or deface hotel property, will be arrested”. he usually leaves his art behind and inevitably others profit off it.

    excellent finale. as a centennial project, maybe that was his intent. for the guests to experience themselves as colonialists or something. it’s direct, in your face.

  5. hippocrasy
    March 6, 2017, 9:40 pm

    My mom is from Bethlehem and I think Banksy gives more publicity to the lunacy over there and the stupidity of the wall more than anyone or anything has done to this point. I welcome the artistic statement that his hotel and Banksy make about the wall, the divide and the whole sad Palestinian situation.
    Profit off the hotel? To be able to get to his hotel, tourists have to get through a ton of propaganda and countless checkpoints and closures, plus it totals 12 rooms. Anyone who has had and has an investment in the holy land does it for the love and not the profit. I’ve watched this occupation bankrupt a great many people.

  6. just
    March 7, 2017, 1:45 am

    Thanks for all of the comments.

    “Don’t believe only bad things happen in Palestine…

    Banksy’s Walled Off hotel and Yaqoub Shaheen’s Arab Idol victory offered good news to an area that sorely needs it

    Two excited crowds gathered in Bethlehem yesterday afternoon, one outside Banksy’s new hotel by the barrier wall, hoping for a glimpse of the internationally famous artist’s latest venture. The much larger, louder group was waiting beside the Church of the Nativity, to welcome a returning local hero, winner of the regional talent competition Arab Idol.

    Hundreds of mostly young men and women roared when 23-year-old Yaqoub Shaheen was carried on to the stage in Manger Square. “He’s a Palestinian who shows we have talent regardless of the pressure on us,” said Yasmin el-Ramahi, a classmate of Shaheen’s, from primary school to graduation, and thrilled at seeing him again. Banksy? “Never heard of him.”

    Few knew of the British street artist, although several recognised snapshots of his protest art, including a dove in a flak jacket and a girl frisking a soldier. Banksy’s work is more famous than his name, said souvenir shop owner Nabil Giacoman, who does a brisk trade in magnets, postcards and carvings of the artist’s work. Palestinians are grateful for the international attention he has brought their fight for a state and against Israel’s barrier wall. “I like that he shows you how we are suffering, the truth about our situation.

    News of Banksy’s Walled Off hotel, which grabbed international headlines on Friday, had yet to make it a few miles down the road inside the West Bank. That may have been partly because the town was seized with excitement about Shaheen’s return, a free concert and a rare opportunity for untempered celebration.

    While Palestinians do not want their fight forgotten, nor do they want to be known only for their troubles. Shaheen, a Christian carpenter’s son who celebrated his win by singing a patriotic song with the Palestinian flag draped around his shoulders, brought them joy and solidarity, they said.

    He was carried to victory on a wave of millions of popular votes, many of them from Muslim Palestinians who made up a large part of the crowd waiting to welcome him. “Anyone who represents Palestine in a bright way is a good thing. At the end of the day, we are all one people,” said Mujahid Yahya, a Muslim fan who had travelled for over two hours from Jenin to see Shaheen. “We need someone of this calibre to represent us.”

    “The feeling of being Palestine and Bethlehem is worth the whole world,” Shaheen said. “I will travel but I will return home.”…”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/05/dont-believe-only-bad-things-happen-palestine-banksy-arab-idol-yaqoub-shaheen

  7. James Canning
    March 7, 2017, 1:39 pm

    The New York Times report on this new hotel mistakenly stated it looked out on the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank.

  8. xanadou
    March 7, 2017, 8:30 pm

    It’s been nigh on 70 years and NOTHING, NOT. A. G-D. THING. has worked to assist, alleviate, let alone – stop! – the bloody war of occupation and annihilation. Ms. Nassar is entitled to her opinion, but what it lacks is an effective proposition of her own what/how to make this nightmare end. If she thinks that establishing an “educational mission” will work – well, then, go to it woman! Banksy is doing something that is different, that gets attention, that brings all sorts to the source, even encourages opinions to flow. That MO has worked for Banksy from his first spray-paint job.

    “While the hotel is oiled with political commentary through its grotesque view of the wall and its militarized aesthetic and charged artwork, it fails to make any official political statement…”
    Ms. T, dear, this is a hotel with an artistic purpose geared towards outsider visitors, and intended to bring the ongoing Naqba to the attention of the silent/apathetic/ignorant world. Banksy’s effectiveness is in the powerful sarcasm employed in this endeavour. Notwithstanding the fact that it has provided employment where there is little to none. Has Ms. N. spoken to any of the Palestinians who work at the hotel or live in its vicinity to find out what they think? No? Why not?

    It is not Banksy’s job to make a political anything. He job is not to “educate”, but to provide a platform for inquiring minds to reach their own conclusions. He is an artist and an uncommon businessman with a deep and abiding desire to provide a modest spot where people can come to see and consider, for and by themselves, the macabre truth. Nothing is more powerful than a person who will return home and relay his/her personal experiences fortified with personally taken images, because the journey to Bethlehem will, inevitably, entail more than a stay at a hotel that is designed to make the introduction to what has to end. ASAP.

    Ms. Nassar makes a nonsensical assertion that “Banksy’s language undermine(s) the Palestinian struggle and reduce(s) it to a mere “disadvantage” in comparison to Israelis, (…) it also encourages this false non-partisan silence when it comes to the Palestinian Question”.

    Au contraire. Ms. N. fails to acknowledge Banksy’s respect towards the visitors and their ability to come to their own conclusions. Indoctrination does not work. Subtle sarcasm does. If a visitor decides s/he wants to see/know more, the hotel has a concierge, n’est-ce pas? Ms. N. fails to grasp that people who will probe for answers will remember the responses better than any “educational mission” can hope to accomplish.

    Bottom line: Ms. N does not seem to get Banksy’s subtlety, sarcasm and/or his art. Perhaps she should to create that “educational mission” that would provide the “education” that she thinks will work better. I promise I will support and further this and any other effort that will bring the Palestinian tragedy to the reluctant ones, either in conversation or thru my blog.

  9. JLewisDickerson
    March 8, 2017, 4:22 am

    LA DOLCE VITA:

    Fine Dining (“Bon appétit”, as Julia Childs used to say! – J.L.D.)

    Fine Dining comes with a standardized questionnaire i.e menu that CIA case officers fill out. The questionnaire is used by the agency’s OSB (Operational Support Branch) to transform the requests of case officers into technical requirements for hacking attacks (typically “exfiltrating” information from computer systems) for specific operations. The questionnaire allows the OSB to identify how to adapt existing tools for the operation, and communicate this to CIA malware configuration staff. The OSB functions as the interface between CIA operational staff and the relevant technical support staff.

    Among the list of possible targets of the collection are ‘Asset’, ‘Liason Asset’, ‘System Administrator’, ‘Foreign Information Operations’, ‘Foreign Intelligence Agencies’ and ‘Foreign Government Entities’. Notably absent is any reference to extremists or transnational criminals. The ‘Case Officer’ is also asked to specify the environment of the target like the type of computer, operating system used, Internet connectivity and installed anti-virus utilities (PSPs) as well as a list of file types to be exfiltrated like Office documents, audio, video, images or custom file types. The ‘menu’ also asks for information if recurring access to the target is possible and how long unobserved access to the computer can be maintained. This information is used by the CIA’s ‘JQJIMPROVISE’ software (see below) to configure a set of CIA malware suited to the specific needs of an operation.

    Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealedhttps://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/

    • Mooser
      March 15, 2017, 4:56 pm

      “● Fine Dining (“Bon appétit”, as Julia Childs used to say! – J.L.D.)”

      And in this case, could there be anybody more apropos than Ms. Childs?

  10. beachbossdon
    March 8, 2017, 8:24 am

    Im sorry but I’m all for different opinions and critique on artwork, especially when it’s of political nature, but your article in nonsensical. I feel like you missed the point entirely and generally don’t understand the English language, everything you’ve said Banksy is saying, he’s actually saying the opposite of! For example:

    “It encourages a veiled forgiving attitude towards what is, in fact not “a simple divide between the people,” as Banksy writes.”

    Contrary to Banksy’s statement, this “simple divide “is not a “lie”

    But Banksy said that the wall “sells the idea there is a simple divide … but there isn’t.” – So Banksy said what you wanted him to say anyway!

    And again you said “It would have been productive and crucial for Banksy to fulfill his educational mission and make mention of the millions of Palestinians in diaspora, unable to return to their homeland. ”

    When Banksy DID do so by saying ,”So, unlike the locals, you’ll be permitted to travel wherever you wish. ”

    I think perhaps where you may have gone wrong, is in expecting an ART project, something which uses subtly, satire and craft, to be a in your face political promotion just because it’s of a political nature.

    The hotel it’s self is satirical, it’s not a real hotel – it’s an art installation. I would imagine the writing you are quoting is to be read in a slightly sarcastic tone, somewhat similar to a real hotel advertisement”

    The exhibition isn’t even that subtle, it outright tells you where it stands with the occupation and the wall, but that seems to have slipped past you somehow.

  11. Maire Noonan
    March 8, 2017, 10:38 am

    Isn’t this what we wish from art? Confronting and uncovering the political and elite establishment’s obscuring and misrepresenting of realities related to social, ethnic, political etc. justice? By using all kinds of means (irony, metaphor, unease inducing images, etc. etc.). Art is too frequently bourgeois and limited to the elite. (And yet, we can value it for its messages.) But Banksy simply doesn’t fit the kind of artist that deserves this sort of criticism. I disagree with the article’s attack, although I don’t disagree with everything the article says. It is certainly thought provoking.

  12. Fred Schlomka
    March 8, 2017, 12:11 pm

    When I first saw the title of Ms. Nassar’s article, I assumed it was intending to be satirical. I attended the opening event last Friday, and the article’s assertions were not borne out by the intentions of the artist, and the mission of the hotel’s management to:
    – Oppose the Occupation
    – Resist the Occupation
    – Educate the world about the Occupation
    – End the Occupation.

    That’s what the Walled Off Hotel is all about.

  13. rhipidon
    March 8, 2017, 1:29 pm

    This article is naive about the relationship between art and politics (especially visual, performance, and installation art). As other commenters have pointed out, the writer has hopelessly misread Banksy. The writer seems to have no understanding of how the history of visual/performance/installation art informs Banksy’s work in general and the hotel in particular. Shouldn’t the writer’s responsibility be to research as many angles to her article as possible? The article is driven by the writer’s own feelings about what political art should do — which is important, of course, but only if the writer actually expressed curiosity about the history of contemporary political art in the first place (and curiosity about the body of work of this particular artist). The writer does not seem to want politically provocative art — does not seem to want art that draws people into uncomfortable (and maybe transformative) experiences — but instead simply wants art to be a series of slogans. I’m not sure why Mondoweiss didn’t expect more from the writer. This is a great topic to work from, and with some serious editing it might have been an engaging article.

  14. Liz
    March 8, 2017, 1:30 pm

    While I appreciate this article, I think it’s important to remember that political satire and political art is vitally important (especially now, as the Trump administration aims to censor and cut the arts). Banksy is cleverly calling attention to the wall in a nonviolent political way.

    • TdBerg
      March 15, 2017, 2:34 pm

      I agree. This is precisely the kind of PR needed to attract attention to our cause. It wont fix the gross injustice of occupation but it will help make clear the horrid conditions in the occupied territories. Most Americans are clueless as to the realities.

  15. TdBerg
    March 15, 2017, 2:30 pm

    I must respectfully disagree. What Banksy did here is utterly brilliant. This is precisely the thing that will attract attention to how gross the occupation is. It will additionally bring much needed commerce to the Palestinian people. Granted it wont cure the ills- but to argue that it is not beneficial seems disingenuous to me. PS….War tourism? Do you truly believe that is what this is?

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