“The worst view of any hotel in the world”. That’s what the owner of the Walled Off hotel said about his own establishment. A 10 room hotel in which rooms get an average of 25 minutes of direct sunlight each day. Nestled against the controversial barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, the West Bank’s answer to the Waldorf offers travellers something more elusive than any luxury destination. The lodging in Bethlehem is a hotel, museum, protest and gallery all in one. Its packed with the artworks and angry brilliance of its owner, British street artist Banksy.
“Walls are hot right now, but I was into them long before [Donald] Trump made it cool,” said Banksy in a recent statement. The artist, who has built an air of mystery by maintaining his anonymity, first visited Bethlehem over a decade ago, leaving a series of paintings that have since become tourist attractions, in his wake.
Over the past decade, the town’s tourist economy has been destroyed by tighter Israeli controls on travel between Israel and Palestine. The new hotel is therefore billed to give a much needed boost in the number of tourist visitors and resulting jobs.
Riding off the back of Banksy’s reputation, the hotel is set to open on March 20th. The team behind the hotel hopes that Israelis, who rarely see the barrier wall close or visit Palestinian towns, will be among the guests - even though visiting would mean breaking the law. Manager Wisam Salsaa said “I would like to invite everyone to come here, invite Israeli civilians to come visit us here. We want them to learn more about us, because when they know us it will break down the stereotypes and things will change.”
Israelis are currently banned from visiting Bethlehem and its most well-known monuments and sites. Even though Banksy has chosen a site officially under Israeli military control, all the roads to reach it involve an illegal journey through Palestinian controlled regions. The hotel, which had at one point been a pottery workshop. is characterised by a dystopian colonial theme that betrays the history of Britain’s impact in the region’s past. There is also a reception and tea-room.
In his statement Banksy said “It’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.”
Banksy played down concerns that security forces would bar people from his artworks, raising the point that he had recently packed out a ‘bemusement park’ in an unglamorous English countryside town for a weeks. “My accountant was worried some people will be too scared to travel to the West Bank, but then I remind him – for my last show they spent a whole day in Weston-super-Mare.”
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