Banksy’s hotel isn’t gentrification, it is an invitation for people to come see the occupation for what it is

Israel/Palestine
on 9 Comments

How do you engage people with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, when you’re faced with the slickest and most well-funded propaganda machine the world has ever known? A trendy new hotel in Bethlehem created by the graffiti artist Banksy has opened the public in an effort to breathe new life into the fight for Palestinian justice. However, for some Palestinians, the hotel amounts to the gentrification of this decades-old conflict. While I appreciate that I will never be able to understand the Palestinian experience in the same way a Palestinian could, however, I want to offer my view as an international.

My view is that Banksy’s hotel is not a form of gentrification, but a much-needed boost to the flagging fight for Palestinian justice.

Two years ago, I came to Palestine knowing very little about the occupation, filled with apprehension about what I might find. Now I live and work here. Coming to the West Bank changed my life, turned me into an activist and advocate, and in turn, I have changed the views of my friends and family back home too. The problem is, for every one of me, there are hundreds of people who come to Israel every year and go home to tell their families how delightful Israel is, and how misguided people who criticize it are. Think of all the gay men lured to Tel Aviv by Israel’s relentless LGBT marketing campaigns who leave with the impression Israel is some kind of human rights mecca.

I understand why something that appears to turn the struggle for independence into a commercial business, and that provides enjoyment to foreigners while Palestinians continue to suffer, could make some Palestinians feel uncomfortable. But the notion that the hotel ‘begs for the presence of the wall’ is true only in that sense that all forms of protest, by their very nature, require something to protest against. Palestine’s struggle for freedom itself requires the existence of the occupation, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that the struggle roots for a permanent occupation. And it’s unfair to suggest that Banksy’s hotel takes no stance on Israel’s illegal occupation and the oppression and marginalization of the Palestinian people. Art shouldn’t need an explainer, and Banksy’s work speaks for itself. Nobody could visit this museum with the ‘worst view in the world’ and think that its intention was to support or condone the occupation or the Wall.

This is a propaganda war, and the grim reality is that Palestine is losing. One hundred years of the Balfour Declaration, 50 years of occupation and ten years of the siege of Gaza and Palestinians are further than ever from achieving the dream of independence and justice. If that is going to change, Palestine urgently needs to channel more people across the checkpoints to see for themselves. Some have suggested that the idea of a hotel at all is a slap in the face to the millions of Palestinians unable to visit the West Bank, or who face severe movement restrictions wherever they live in the occupied territories. I understand that this crippling injustice is a bitter pill to swallow. But to win this bitter struggle Palestine needs internationals. Israel knows this, which is why they’re reaching out to them too. If Palestinians are unable to bring their struggle to the world because of movement restrictions and a far superior media machine on the other side of the wall, they will have to bring the world to their struggle. I know that to see this place is to believe it, but first, you have to get here.

I understand why someone might think Banksy’s hotel is a form of gentrification. The glitzy, grungy trendiness of the place certainly does channel London’s hipster Shoreditch district more than Bethlehem’s usual mix of historic religious attractions. But regardless of how fair you think it is, this hotel attracted global attention and reached millions of people, thousands of times the number that charity advocacy campaigns do. What’s more, it got people talking about Palestine without anyone mentioning the word terrorism, and nobody accused this hotel of anti-Semitism. Long after fickle international media got bored with the injustice of Israel’s wall, Banksy demanded they pay it more attention. In this propaganda war, we need people with the power to draw attention to Palestine, when so many of the world’s other problems are constantly battling for the same eyes.

But Banksy’s hotel goes even further than simply garnering media attention. Because this isn’t just an invitation to care about Palestine. It’s an invitation to Palestine. This hotel is an attraction, a reason to visit when many might not. Thousands of people with tickets already booked to Israel may now be working out how to factor the hotel into their stay, drawing them away from Israel’s carefully crafted tourist hotspots to offer the Palestinian view. Thousands more, of whom may never have come, will be booking tickets to Palestine just to visit this hotel. They’ll come to Bethlehem and spend money in the Palestinian economy, talk to Palestinians, and maybe even go further afield into the West Bank. Then, they’ll go home and recommend it to their friends.

I work in development, where I constantly see millions of dollars plowed into advocacy campaigns and tourism initiatives that change nothing. Palestine’s current tourism offering, which has the potential to be a source of both economic prosperity and crucial international support, is crippled by a desperate lack of imagination. Grand plans to strengthen it rarely get further than rehabilitating historical sites that only hardcore history buffs would have an interest in seeing, and which have little commercial value. But this hotel will literally pay for itself. If we want tourists to stay longer in Palestine, do more things here, meet more people and spend more money, that starts with creating some exciting and inviting places to stay.

A commercially viable political statement that attracts more visitors to Palestine changes the agenda and draws the attention of the world’s media. My only question now is, how do we replicate and build on this success?

About Rory Evans

Rory Evans is an independent journalist and development policy researcher living and working in Palestine. Follow him on Twitter: @RoryEvans_

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9 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    March 14, 2017, 2:10 pm

    RE: “Banksy’s hotel isn’t gentrification, it is an invitation for people to come see the occupation for what it is” ~ Rory Evans

    MY COMMENT: I respectfully concur!

  2. chocopie
    March 14, 2017, 2:59 pm

    I’d like to know what Palestinians who live there think about it. I’m willing to support whatever Palestinians support. Nothing against Rory Evans, but he does mention he’s only become familiar with these issues in the last two years, so I’d rather know more about how Palestinians view the project. I know some diaspora Palestinians are critical of it, but I’m not sure if their views are widespread among Palestinians in general. I will say that the “even-handed” placard that asks visitors not to choose sides and the pillow-fight wall mural both got my hackles up but I’d like to keep an open mind.

    When it comes to internationals visiting Israel or Palestine, I don’t know what to think. I support BDS and wouldn’t go myself but I have seen others go there and return again seemingly without developing much awareness of the occupation or the ongoing Nakba. I think people can go there and look right at it without understanding what they’re seeing.

    In fact, I have a close friend who is traveling there soon, invited by a former classmate of hers who is now (Jewish) Israeli. I told my friend to take a side trip to the West Bank but I don’t know if she’ll really do that. I’m at a loss how to prepare my friend for her visit so that she will actually SEE what’s there. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open.

  3. amigo
    March 14, 2017, 4:27 pm

    ” I’m at a loss how to prepare my friend for her visit so that she will actually SEE what’s there. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open. ” chocopie

    Try getting her to read the following.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/what-happened-when-famous-authors-went-to-visit-hardcore-jewish-settlers-a7018946.html

  4. catalan
    March 14, 2017, 4:49 pm

    “I’m at a loss how to prepare my friend for her visit so that she will actually SEE what’s there. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open. “-
    Everyone knows that the occupation is awful and that life in the PA areas is tough. What people don’t know is how to change the situation. BDS assumes that it can hit Israeli GDP enough to cause the citizens of Israel to be very upset (lose their jobs, can’t find a medicine, travel restrictions, etc.), so they would vote for a left wing party like Meretz, or the Arab parties, or the communists, and they in turn would sign a deal that’s acceptable to the Palestinians. There is a lot of ifs in this scenario – that boycotts would have a strong effect, that Israelis would become more left wing, and that a government then elected would negotiate more compliantly.
    Maybe that will happen, someone said in five years. Five years is not terrible.

    • Maghlawatan
      March 14, 2017, 9:08 pm

      BDS is about leveraging international pressure and concern to help Israel before it collapses. Zionism has never been rational. Zionism is like positing turd worship as the essence of Judaism. And it isn’t. You don’t have to be a Torah scholar to understand that.

    • talknic
      March 14, 2017, 10:54 pm

      ” Five years is not terrible”

      To a raving nutcase apologist for Zionist colonization. However, most Palestinians have been dispossessed or under occupation their entire lives

      1948 to 2017 is 69 years. 120 years since the Zionist Federation decided to colonize Palestine

  5. Tom Suarez
    March 15, 2017, 5:18 am

    I have a less generous “take” on the W-O Hotel—-my thanks to Rory Evans for this piece challenging my (perhaps knee-jerk) opinion on it.
    But more importantly…
    In my opinion we need to stop playing into Israel’s hands by saying that the “occupation” is fifty years old, and the siege of Gaza is ten years old. The Israeli occupation of land far beyond its legal limits began in mid-1948 (even if one accepts Res 181 as legal), and the siege of Gaza by the end of 1948 (indeed many Palestinians made refugees in Gaza were slaughtered in the attempt to break the siege and reach the somewhat less horrific conditions in the West Bank).
    If we were actually able to go back to the so-called 1967 borders, it would be a rude morning after. The core problem would be unchanged.

    • Boo
      March 15, 2017, 12:04 pm

      I’ll be charitable and opine that 181 may not have been envisioned by the UN as an occupation. But its actual implementation was, unequivocally, just that.

  6. Eva Smagacz
    March 17, 2017, 5:40 am

    Rory,

    You write:
    “Think of all the gay men lured to Tel Aviv by Israel’s relentless LGBT marketing campaigns who leave with the impression Israel is some kind of human rights mecca”

    Reality, of course, has nothing to do with it:

    ISRAEL’S LGBT HUB TEL AVIV SEES LAST GAY BAR CLOSE ITS DOORS

    As reported by Haaretz, Newsweek and numerous LGBT publications last year.

    Israel’s propaganda about Israel all too often has little to do with reality in Israel.

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