From the vandalised oil paintings and statues choking on tear gas fumes in the Piano Bar to Elton John playing for the opening party (remotely, broadcast over a modest TV screen), this new West Bank hotel has Banksy’s dystopian stamp all over it.
Bedrooms overlook Israel’s infamous separation wall; its neighbour is the Aida refugee camp. The artist paid for the ‘installation’, which will function as a bona fide hotel during what it’s calling the Centenary Year (2017 marks 100 years since the British took control of Palestine, with its ensuing century of conflict). It has since been handed over as an independent local business, with the aim of breaking even and putting any profits back into as-yet-unnamed local projects.
Revenue could be significant. Banksy’s last tourist endeavour, the Dismaland theme park in Weston-super-Mare, generated £20m in its five-week run. Not unsurprisingly, this new project hasn’t pleased everyone, with some bemoaning Bethlehem’s conflict being used to generate income — though it’s a business model long-preceded by local tours that take in the wall, its history and rich graffiti, including a now-iconic stencil work by Banksy, painted over 10 years ago.
Voyeurism or essential revenue stream, opinions are divided. The Walled Off Hotel states that it isn’t aligned to any political movement or pressure group, saying, “The aim is to tell the story of the wall from every side and give visitors the opportunity to discover it for themselves. We offer a warm welcome to young Israelis — absolutely no fanaticism is permitted on the premises.”
Published in the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)