Street artist Banksy opens Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Joe Dyke
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Banksy's newly opened Walled Off hotel in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, has graffiti inside the hotel guest rooms

Secretive British street artist Banksy opened a hotel next to Israel's controversial separation wall in Bethlehem on Friday, his latest artwork in the Palestinian territories.

The Walled Off Hotel is only four metres from the wall which cuts through the occupied West Bank and all the rooms face it.

"It has the worst view of any hotel in the world," Banksy said in a statement.

The man himself was not in attendance, though dozens of his new works adorn the walls.

A spokeswoman said it was his largest new collection in years.

Elton John will play a "live show" to mark the hotel opening on Saturday, she added, but would not clarify if he would be present or perform via videolink.

Hotel manager Wissam Salsaa said the rooms will be rented out from March 20 starting at $30 a night for a bed in the bunkroom.

The nine rooms have a deliberate faded luxury, with typical Banksy touches.

Above one bed an Israeli soldier and Palestinian protester fight with pillows, while a television supposedly showing CNN is cracked and backwards.

In a hall a painting of a beautiful landscape is trapped behind a grate.

In the presidential suite, a working jacuzzi is fed from a leaking water tank similar to those that adorn the roofs of many Palestinian homes.

There is also a gallery selling Palestinian art and a museum highlighting the history of the region and Western interference in it.

At a push of a button a moving statue of Arthur Balfour signs the decree which promised Jews a homeland in the land at that time called Palestine.

Seven of the bedrooms were designed by Banksy himself. Two others were dreamed up by Canadian and Palestinian artists.

- 'A puzzle' -

"The room is on the edge of falling apart. It is very mundane, it's very refined, very lush, but when you look at details it is... messed up," the Canadian artist Dominique Petrin said.

The wall is one of the most striking symbols of Israel's 50-year occupation, and has become a major focus for demonstrations and art work.

Israel refers to it as the security barrier and insists it is crucial for keeping out would-be attackers.

Banksy has maintained his anonymity despite numerous theories and attempts to reveal his identity since he started stencilling on walls in his native city of Bristol in southwest England more than a decade ago".

Exactly how he worked on the year-long hotel project was closely protected.

Petrin said she "got a message" to become involved but didn't know if she had met Banksy while working there.

"This whole thing is a puzzle and I got one piece of the puzzle. It doesn't mean I know the large picture."

Salsaa would not say how he became involved, only that he was "part of the project."

Asked if he was Banksy, he paused, smiled and replied: "Sorry, what did you say?"

Husam Zomlot, a special advisor to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said they had no idea about the hotel until it opened.

-'Banksy tourism'-

While most Palestinian cities in the West Bank are forbidden for Israelis to visit, the hotel owners say the part of Bethlehem where it is located is under Israeli control.

Salsaa said they were actively encouraging Israelis to come and understand the reality for Palestinians.

"It is a great opportunity for them to come and see this beautiful art and also to come and learn more about the influence and effect of the wall on Palestinians."

Bethlehem tourism firms have long complained that the wall and Israel's occupation of the West Bank have crippled business.

The artist has a long history in the Palestinian territories.

In February 2015, he allegedly sneaked into the Gaza Strip through a smuggling tunnel and painted three works on the walls of Gaza homes destroyed in Israeli air strikes during the previous year's conflict.

In 2007, he painted a number of artworks in Bethlehem, including a young girl frisking an Israeli soldier pinned up against a wall.

In 2005, he sprayed nine stencilled images at different locations along the eight-metre-high (27 foot) wall.

They included a ladder reaching over the wall, a young girl being carried over it by balloons and a window on the grey concrete showing beautiful mountains in the background.

His works, like elsewhere in the world, have become tourist attractions.

"Since 2007 tens of thousands came specially to see Banksy work in Bethlehem," Salsaa said.

"We are going to support a tourism that already existed in Bethlehem called Banksy tourism."