Banksy painting sprayed on West Bank resurfaces in Tel Aviv

Tel-Aviv, Israel-

A long-lost painting by British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced in a posh art gallery in central Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive and a world away from the concrete wall in the occupied West Bank where it was initially sprayed.

The relocation of the painting, which depicts a rat with a slingshot and was likely intended to protest Israel’s occupation, raises ethical questions about removing artwork from occupied territory and displaying such politically charged pieces in settings radically different from where they were. They were created.

The painting initially appeared near Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem and was one of several works created in secret around 2007. They used Banksy’s trademark dystopian and absurd imagery to protest the occupation of Israel. Israel of territories that the Palestinians want for a future state.

He now resides at Urban Gallery in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district, surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.

“This is the story of David and Goliath,” said Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply displaying the work, leaving its interpretation to others.

The Associated Press could not independently confirm the authenticity of the piece, but Abergel said the cracks and scratches in the concrete serve as “a fingerprint” proving it is the same piece that appears on the artist’s website.

The 70-kilometre (43-mile) journey he made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 900-pound concrete slab would have had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint, daily features of Palestinian life and targets of Banksy’s biting satire.

Abergel, a partner in the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian associate in Bethlehem. He refused to reveal the amount 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 raised concrete section of the separation barrier.

Some time later, the painting itself was subjected to graffiti by someone who blacked out the painting and scrawled “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block. Palestinian residents clipped the painting and kept it in private residences until early this year, Abergel said.

He said the relocation involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian partner and careful restoration to remove 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 passed through a checkpoint, until it reached Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

His account of his journey could not be independently confirmed.

The piece now sits on an ornate tiled floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Baruch Kashkash, the gallery’s owner, said the roughly 2-square-meter (yard) block was so heavy it had to be carried inside by crane and could barely be moved from the entrance.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank and Palestinians require Israeli permits to enter or leave and to import and export goods. Even when traveling within the West Bank, Israeli soldiers can stop and search them at any time.

Israeli citizens, including Jewish settlers, can travel freely in and out of the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. Israel prohibits its citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-administered areas for security reasons, but there is little enforcement of that ban.

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 10 years ago.

Abergel said the artwork’s move was not coordinated with the Israeli military and that its Palestinian associates, whom he declined to name, were responsible for moving it into Israel and crossing military checkpoints. He said that he has no plans to sell the piece.

According to the international treaty governing cultural property to which Israel is a signatory, the occupying powers must prevent the removal of cultural property from the occupied territories. It is not clear exactly how the 1954 Hague Convention would apply in this case.

“This is a theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jeries Qumsieh, a 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 them, manipulating them and stealing them is definitely an illegal act.”

The Israeli army 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 relocation.

Banksy has created numerous works of art in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, including one depicting a girl conducting a body search on an Israeli soldier, another depicting a pigeon wearing a bulletproof vest, and a masked protester throws a bouquet of flowers. She also designed the “Walled Off Hotel” guesthouse in Bethlehem, which is filled with her artwork.

A Banksy spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

This is not the first time the street artist’s work has been taken out of the West Bank. In 2008, two other paintings, “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search”, were removed from the walls of a bus stop and butcher 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 draw their own conclusions about the artwork and its implications.

“We took it to the main street of Tel Aviv to show it to the audience and show its messages,” Abergel said. “He should be happy with that.”

Scharf reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press reporter Areej Hazboun in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment