Bethlehem is holy to Christians, as it was in a manger in this city that a baby boy was born, after his parents were turned away from the inn because there was no room for them.
So naturally a new hotel in Bethlehem assumes a special significance, reminding us of a humble Jewish family whose son’s life and death was to transform the world and usher in a whole new civilisation.
Given this history, you’d think the hotel would put down the welcome mat for the descendants of the holy family. Yet you’d be wrong, because this is a Banksy Hotel, which means that unless as a Jew, you are prepared to abandon your cultural heritage and support genocidal Jew-hatred, you will find the hospitality decidedly frosty. Curiously, some Jews do fit these criteria; J-Street afficionados or other anti-Israel group would doubtless be sure of a rapturous welcome.
Let’s hear more about this hotel. The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison writes:
Worst view in the world’: Banksy opens hotel overlooking Bethlehem wall
The Walled Off hotel may sound utilitarian, even bleak. Its owner says it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world”, while its 10 rooms get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day.
But, 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, packed with the artworks and angry brilliance of its owner, British street artist Banksy.
All the rooms look out on to the concrete slabs of the wall and some have views over it to pill boxes and an Israeli settlement – illegal under international law – on the hillside beyond.
… the town’s pilgrim and sightseeing-based economy has been ravaged by ever-tighter Israeli controls on travel between Israel and the Palestinian territories, so the new hotel is expected to provide a welcome boost in jobs and visitor numbers.
The team hope Israelis, who rarely see the barrier wall up close or visit Palestinian towns, will be among the guests, even though visiting means breaking the law.
“I would like to … invite Israeli civilians to come visit us here,” said manager Wisam Salsaa. “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 banned from visiting Bethlehem and its famous sites. And although Banksy has chosen a site officially under Israeli military control – meaning it is legal for Israelis to stay there – all the roads to reach it involve an illegal journey through Palestinian-controlled territory.
A small museum explains the wall, the controls on movement and the troubled history of the region, curated together with Essex University professor Gavin Grindon.
Also in the building, part of a plan to promote dialogue, is a gallery showing the work of Palestinian artists…
It’s hard to imagine how a gallery full of pro-Palestinian propaganda could possibly promote dialogue, but this is obviously not the real purpose – which is the demonisation of Israel and the dehumanization of her people. While Wisam Salsaa might claim visits from Israelis (presumably Jewish ones) will “break down the stereotypes”, the reality of being surrounded by anti-Israel propaganda with absolutely no balancing explanation of why the wall – in reality mostly a fence – was necessary or how hard Israel has tried to make peace with her neighbours despite their rejectionism, would surely confirm those stereotypes of Arabs as anti-Semites who desire nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish State..
Predictably, Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, is enthusiastic about the new project:
In the revered birth town of Jesus, the Walled Off hotel stands three storeys high.
Under an army watchtower and across the street from the concrete wall Israel has built in parts of the occupied West Bank, street artist Banksy has opened a guesthouse in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
Banksy described his guesthouse as having the worst view of any hotel in the world: every room overlooks the barrier which is a symbol of oppression for the Palestinians.
Israel began building it in 2002 at the height of a Palestinian uprising in which Israeli cities were rocked by frequent Palestinian suicide bombings.
Palestinians dub it an “apartheid wall” and an Israeli attempt to grab land in the West Bank, which they want along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, for a future state.
The Banksy statement said the hotel “offers a warm welcome to people from all sides of the conflict and across the world”.
At least Ganeyeh mentioned that building the wall was in response to Palestinian suicide bombings. It would have been even better had he condemned those bombings.
Even some of Bethlehem’s residents are not enthused about the hotel, but sadly for the wrong reasons:
Muhannad Al Azzeh, a local graffiti artist who was born in Dheisheh refugee camp, close to the wall…is one of many local artists who are against having the barrier painted altogether; since Banksy’s first visit in 2005 parts of the walls have been covered in eclectic graffiti and murals by international and Palestinian artists. “I want people to see an apartheid wall, a military wall,” says Al Azzeh. “I don’t want them to discuss whether this painting is by Banksy. I don’t want to forget all the Palestinian people killed there… when Israeli soldiers shot them.”
What’s more, some of the work by Banksy and other artists in the new hotel crosses a line for Azzeh. The painting of an Israeli soldier and Palestinian civilian fighting with pillows trivialises the conflict. And the much vaunted idea of Israelis visiting the hotel to have a new viewpoint on the conflict doesn’t impress him.
“I am completely against inviting Palestinians and Israelis to spend the day together in the hotel,” he says, as to him, such an approach does not tally with the struggle against occupation.
“I see how [Banksy’s] work brings a lot of people to Bethlehem to see the wall and the city,” says Ayed Arafah, another local artist. “But now all the people who come to take photos of the paintings and graffiti… it’s become like Disneyland.”
Christians United for Israel UK are also offended by Banksy’s project, but for very different reasons:
Banksy famously painted several murals on the Israeli security barrier, that protects Israeli civilians from Palestinian terror attacks.
…there are multiple art pieces that clearly show Banksy’s anti-Israel stance, despite his claim to be neutral.
The most controversial art piece of them all… is the picture of Jesus looking worried with a sniper’s red dot sight on his forehead.
Clearly the image is supposed to represent Jesus as a Palestinian, after all, this is a claim made by many Palestinian leadership. And the red dot on his forehead is undoubtedly depicted as being from an Israeli sniper rifle.
There are countless examples where antisemitic attacks have taken place on the false premise that “the Jews killed Jesus”. Too often we see this phrase being used by extremists to justify their hatred of the Jews. To depict Jesus being targeted by Israeli Jewish snipers is dangerous to say the least.
Far too often anti-Israel views cross-over into the realms of antisemitism… to depict Jesus in such a way could show that Banksy is moving in that direction.
Not only is this image antisemitic, it is also deeply offensive to Christians. Many Christians see Israel as a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. Our faith is rooted in Judaism and the land of Israel and Christians are the largest group that supports Israel politically. To use Jesus as a weapon to attack Israel and the Jewish people goes far beyond the pale.
However it appears the media is already singing the praises of Banksy and will do all they can to promote the anti-Israel narrative they crave. And they are likely to show little concern for the Christians and Jews who will find this art piece highly offensive.
I agree that the picture not only portrays Jesus as a Palestinian (i.e. a Muslim), but is an extension of the old canard, that the Jews (here represented by Israeli sniper fire) killed Jesus, which has fuelled, and continues to fuel, rampant antisemitism.
The word nuanced certainly doesn’t come to mind when reading the description of Banksy’s hotel. There is no explanation of why the wall was necessary in order to protect Israelis and tourists of all religions and ethnicities, or how it has massively reduced the number of terror attacks. Nor is there mention of the endless propaganda and incitement put out by the Arab media, which permeates their schools, often UN-funded, and incites hatred towards Jews, even to the extent of extolling their massacre, thus making peaceful coexistence impossible.