Banksy protest painting sprayed on West Bank resurfaces in Tel Aviv’s chic gallery

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

The painting’s relocation – which depicts a catapult and was probably intended to protest against the Israeli occupation – raises ethical questions about removing artworks from the area and displaying such politically charged pieces, in radically different settings from where they were placed. are made.

The painting initially appeared near Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and was one of several works secretly created around 2007. They used Banksy’s signature absurdist and dystopian imagery to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of areas the Palestinians want for a future state.

Now it is located 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 Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without fleshing out the analogy. He said the gallery was simply displaying the work and leaving the interpretation to others.

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

The 70-kilometer journey it 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 — everyday features of Palestinian life and goals of Banksy’s biting satire.

Abergel, a partner of the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian employee in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose the amount he paid or identify the seller, but insisted on the legality of the deal.

The graffiti artwork was sprayed onto a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a high concrete section of the dividing wall.

The original location of a missing mural by mysterious British graffiti artist Banksy in Bethlehem, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Some time later, the painting itself was subjected to graffiti by someone who obscured the work and scribbled “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block. Palestinian residents cut out the painting and kept it in private homes until earlier this year, Abergel said.

He said the move involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian collaborator and a careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed over Banksy’s work. The solid block was then enclosed in a steel frame so that it could be lifted onto a flatbed trailer and rolled through a checkpoint until it arrived in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

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

The piece now stands on an ornately patterned tile floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Baruch Kashkash, the gallery’s owner, said the roughly 2-square-foot block was so heavy it had to be brought in with a crane and could barely be moved out of the doorway.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank and Palestinians require Israeli permits to enter or exit and to import and export goods. Even when traveling within 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 under full Israeli control. Israel forbids its citizens to enter Palestinian Authority-controlled areas for security reasons, but the ban is rarely enforced.

A painting by secretive British graffiti artist Banksy that was mysteriously transferred from the West Bank is unveiled at Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Oded Balilty/AP)

The Palestinians have spent decades seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. The peace process came to a halt 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 passing military checkpoints. He said he has no intention of selling the piece.

According to the international treaty on cultural property that Israel has signed, the occupying powers 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 property from 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 military and COGAT, the body of Israel’s Defense Ministry responsible for coordinating civilian 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 frisking a body on an Israeli soldier, another showing a pigeon wearing a bulletproof vest, and a masked protester swinging a bouquet of flowers. He also designed the “Walled Off Hotel” guest house in Bethlehem, which is full of his artwork.

A Banksy spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

It is not the first time that the street artist’s work has been lifted from the West Bank. In 2008, two other paintings – “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search” – were removed from the walls of a bus shelter and butcher shop in Bethlehem. They were eventually bought by galleries in the United States and Great Britain, where they were exhibited in 2011.

A Palestinian man rests beneath a mural by mysterious British graffiti artist Banksy at a gas station in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

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

“We took it to Tel Aviv’s main street to show it to the public and to display its messages,” Abergel said. “He should be happy about it.”

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