Friday, September 22, 2017

Local Palestinians sceptical about Banksyís new venture


By Zann H. - March 21, 2017
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Banksy’s 'Walled Off Hotel’, which opened to its first guests yesterday, has got the world talking, receiving a barrage of criticism as well as praises in recent months. Located just a stone’s throw away from the ill-reputed wall that separates the occupied West Bank from Israel, the hotel purportedly has the “worst view in the world”, as guests looking out their windows are faced with nothing but concrete slabs and barbed wires. 
 
Adorned with a style reminiscent of the days of British colonialism, the rooms are priced from US$30 for a bunk bed in a dorm to US$965 a night for a presidential suite. Juxtaposed to the fame and prestige of Banksy’s graffiti art, it's easy to forget that there are pockets of society still struggling to make ends meet here. The stark realities of life under occupation can be witnessed in Aida camp nearby, while illegal Israeli settlements dot the West Bank landscape. 
 
Farhat, who lives close to the hotel, has mixed views regarding this new venture by Banksy. He has not personally been inside the hotel, but its facade alone gives away it is rather “special” - from the neon-lit name of the hotel redolent of those seen in the casinos of Las Vegas, to the statue of a chimpanzee in the role of a bell boy, with one of its legs chained, as he drags the spilled-out content of a luggage. A broken flag sits atop the building. 
 
While Farhat agrees that Banksy’s hotel will draw visitors and help boost the tourism industry, he fears tourists will be so caught up by the visual elements of the graffiti-strewn wall and the novelty of the hotel that they'll forget the plight of Palestinians living under occupation. 
 
       
 
“I wish to pray in Al-Quds [Jerusalem] but I and many other Palestinians cannot travel there,” he told Palestine Monitor, referring to system according to which Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to travel to Jerusalem can only do so if granted a permit by Israel. “Many of our martyrs have died along these walls,” Farhat added, “and this must not be forgotten in our resistance.”
 
Farhat is also sceptical about how the new hotel can bring about positive change in the community. “What do the tourists really know besides taking photos of these graffiti art?” he asked. “They take the photos and then they return to their own countries, what can these foreigners really do to change things? Are they aware of our suffering? Year after year, the situation is getting worse. You can see more and more illegal Israeli settlements just outside.” 
 
Rana (not her real name), a teenager who lives in slum-like conditions in a narrow alley behind the hotel, said she felt detached from the development around her. Her father earns a pittance to support her family of seven. Surrounded by shops and businesses catering for tourists such as souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants which are way out of the financial reach of her family, Rana has never stepped into any of these places. 
 
Echoing Farhat's opinion, Rana doesn't see the point behind Banksy's entire concept. “The new hotel looks strange, not like any other hotel in Bethlehem. But I am not interested in looking inside,” she said.
 
The gentrification of this area is a cause for concern for both Rana and her mother, who said: “we are worried that all these new developments may cause our home to be demolished one day.”
 
Both mother and daughter reacted with consternation when they heard the exorbitant prices of a night’s stay in the hotel. “Haram!” they exclaimed, using a commonly-used Arabic word meaning 'forbidden'.
 
“This hotel is just another business, just like the tourist shops and it's not meant for us Palestinians,” Rana said.
 
On one end of the spectrum, Banksy’s new hotel may seem to be out of touch with some residents but on the other end, it could open more channels for foreigners to witness and acknowledge the reality of what is happening in Palestine. Issa, who lives close to the new hotel, offers a more positive outlook. 
 
“At least the new hotel will make more people travel here, to see and learn more about our struggles,” he said. “Maybe they cannot do magic to solve our problems, but at least more people will know about our situation and spread the message about the Israeli occupation.”
 
While he is concerned that the artwork may overshadow the reality of the situation, Issa thinks that the entire project still offers a glimmer of hope. “I hope the hotel sends the right message so that we will not suffer in silence,” he said. 
 

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