A painting of Banksy sprayed in the West Bank resurfaces in Tel Aviv
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A long-lost painting by British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced at a swanky art gallery in downtown Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive and a world away from the concrete wall of the Occupied West Bank where it was initially pulverized.
Moving the painting – which depicts a rat armed with a slingshot and was likely intended to protest the Israeli occupation – raises ethical questions about the removal of works of art from the occupied territory and the display of these pieces politically charged in contexts radically different from those in which they were created.
The painting first appeared near Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied city of Bethlehem in the West Bank and was one of many works created in secret around 2007. They used Banksy’s absurd and dystopian imagery to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of the territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
He now resides at the Urban Gallery, in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district, surrounded by skyscrapers of glass and steel.
“It’s the story of David and Goliath,” said Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without giving further details on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply exhibiting the work, leaving its interpretation to others.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the coin’s authenticity, but Abergel said the cracks and scuffs in the concrete served as a “fingerprint” that proves it is the same piece that appears on the artist’s website.
The 70 kilometer (43 mile) journey he made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 900-pound concrete slab should have passed through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint – daily features of Palestinian life and targets of Banksy’s biting satire.
Tel Aviv gallery partner Abergel said he purchased the concrete slab from a Palestinian associate in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose how much he paid or identify the seller, but insisted on the legality of the deal.
The graffiti was spray painted on a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a concrete section of the separation barrier.
Some time later, the painting itself was graffitied by someone who obscured the painting and scribbled “RIP Banksy Rat” on the block. Palestinian residents cut up the painting and kept it in private residences until early this year, Abergel said.
He said the move involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian associate and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed on Banksy’s work. The massive block was then encased in a steel frame so it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and rolled through a checkpoint, until it arrived in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night .
It has not been possible to independently confirm his account of his trip.
The room now stands on an ornately tiled floor, surrounded by other works of contemporary art. Baruch Kashkash, the gallery’s owner, said the roughly 2-square-meter (-yard) block was so heavy that it had to be brought inside by a crane and could barely be moved from the doorway.
Israel controls all access to the West Bank, and Palestinians need Israeli permits to enter or exit and to import and export goods. Even when traveling in the West Bank, they can be stopped and searched by Israeli soldiers at any time.
Israeli citizens, including Jewish settlers, can travel freely in and out of the 60% of the West Bank that is fully under Israeli control. Israel prohibits its citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-administered areas for security reasons, but this ban is poorly enforced.
Palestinians have spent decades seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. The peace process stalled more than a decade ago. 10 years.
Abergel said moving the artwork was not coordinated with the Israeli military and that his Palestinian associates, whom he declined to name, were responsible for moving it to Israel and crossing the checkpoints. military control. He said he had no intention of selling the piece.
According to the international treaty governing cultural property to which Israel is a signatory, occupying powers must prevent the removal of cultural property from occupied territories. It is unclear how the 1954 Hague Convention would apply in this case.
“It is a theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jeries Qumsieh, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. “These were paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem, for Palestine and for visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine. So transferring, manipulating and stealing them is definitely an illegal act.
The IDF and COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for coordinating civil affairs with the Palestinians, said they had no knowledge of the artwork or its movement.
Banksy has created numerous works of art in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, including one depicting a girl performing a body search on an Israeli soldier, another showing a dove wearing a bulletproof vest and a masked protester throwing a bouquet of flowers. He also designed the guest house “Walled Off Hotel” in Bethlehem, which is full of his works.
A Banksy spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time the street artist’s work has been imported from the West Bank. In 2008, two more paintings – “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search” – were removed from the walls of a bus shelter and a butcher’s shop in Bethlehem. They were eventually purchased by galleries in the United States and Great Britain where they were exhibited in 2011.
Abergel says it’s up to viewers to come to their own conclusions about the work and its implications.
“We brought it to the main street of Tel Aviv to show it to the public and to show its messages,” Abergel said. “He should be happy.”
Scharf reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Areej Hazboun in Jerusalem contributed to this report.