August 17, 2022

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

Moving the painting – which depicts a slinging rat that was likely intended to protest the Israeli occupation – raises ethical questions about removing artworks from the occupied territories and displaying such politically charged pieces in places radically different from where they were. they created.

The painting first appeared near the Israeli separation wall in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, and it was one of several works secretly created around 2007. They used the absurd and dystopian Banksy commercial images to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of land Palestinians want for a future state.

She now resides in the 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 Kobi Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without going into details. He said the gallery was simply showing the work, leaving his interpretation to others.

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

The 70-kilometre (43-mile) journey she took from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 900-pound slab of concrete had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint – everyday features of Palestinian life and targets of Banksy’s stinging irony.

Abergel, a partner at the Tel Aviv fair, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian colleague in Bethlehem. He declined to reveal how much he paid or identify the seller, but insisted the deal was legal.

Graffiti artwork was sprayed onto a concrete block that was part of an abandoned IDF outpost in Bethlehem, next to a raised concrete section of the separation barrier.

After some time, the painting itself was subjected to graffiti by someone blocking the painting and scribbling “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block. Abergel said Palestinian residents cut out the painting and kept it in private residences until earlier this year.

He said that the transfer process involved careful negotiations with his Palestinian partner and a careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint that had been sprayed on Banksy’s work. The massive block was then enclosed in a steel frame so that it could be hoisted onto a flatbed truck and rolled through a checkpoint, until it reached Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

It was not possible to confirm his account independently of his journey.

The piece now stands on an ornately tiled floor, surrounded by other contemporary artwork. Baruch Kashkash, owner of the gallery, said that the 2-square-meter building was so heavy that it had to be brought inside by a crane, and it could hardly be moved from the entrance.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank, and Palestinians require Israeli permits to travel in or out of the West Bank 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% of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Israel prohibits its citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-administered areas for security reasons, but there is little enforcement of this ban.

The Palestinians have spent decades seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The peace process stalled more than 10 years ago.

Abergel said that the movement of the artwork was not coordinated with the Israeli army, and that his Palestinian comrades, who declined to be named, are responsible for transporting it to Israel and crossing military checkpoints. He said he had no plans to sell the piece.

According to the international treaty governing cultural property to which Israel is a signatory, the occupying authorities must prevent the removal of cultural property from the occupied territories. It remains unclear exactly how the 1954 Hague Convention would apply in this case.

“This is theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jeris Qumsieh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. These were paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem and Palestine and for visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine. So transporting, 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 were unaware of the technical work or its transfer.

Banksy has created several artworks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, including one depicting a girl physically frisking an Israeli soldier, another showing a dove wearing a flak jacket, and a masked protester throwing a bouquet of flowers. He also designed the “Walled Off Hotel” guest house. In Bethlehem, full of his artwork.

A Banksy spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

This is not the first time the street artist’s work has been uploaded from the West Bank. In 2008, two more paintings – “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Look” – were removed from the walls of a bus shelter and butcher’s shop in Bethlehem. It was eventually purchased by galleries in the United States and Britain where it was shown in 2011.

Abergel says it’s up to viewers to draw their own conclusions about the artwork and its implications.

“We brought it to the main street in Tel Aviv to show it to the public and to show its messages,” Abergel said. “He should be happy with it.”


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

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