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Op-Ed: A visit to the Banksy Hotel

July 6, 2017 5:10 P.M. (Updated: July 7, 2017 10:05 A.M.)
By: Nasser Lahham

Nasser Lahham is the editor in chief of Ma’an News Agency.

While we do not have any proof that Lord Arthur James Balfour withdrew his signature on his famous 1917 declaration that established a home country for Jews on Palestinians lands, famous graffiti artist Banksy seemingly did so through an automaton statue of the British diplomat at the Walled Off Hotel in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, where visitors push a button that moves Balfour’s hand to cross out his signature -- or, as hotel owner Wissam Salsa told Ma’an, perhaps merely showing that Balfour ruined the lives of the Palestinian people by one strike of his pen.

Four months after the Walled Off Hotel opened its doors amid heated reactions, I, along with the head of Ma’an news channel, Muhammad Faraj, met with Salsa to discuss cooperation between Ma’an and Banksy’s latest project in order to exchange ideas and expertise to perpetuate the message of peaceful resistance until Israel’s separation wall comes down.

More and more people have booked rooms in the hotel, Salsa said, as visitors have crowded to admire both the paintings covering the walls of the hotel and “the worst view in the world” overlooking Ariel Sharon’s heartbreaking, barbed wire-topped wall.
Hotel owner William Salsa in front of Israel's separation wall.

The hotel rooms are reminiscent of prison cells, as visitors see the separation wall and come to understand the suffering of Bethlehemites under the occupation.

The hotel museum's audio, visual, and 3-D installations detail the impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinians. In the room focusing on the besieged Gaza Strip, a phone rings, and you hear an English-speaking voice say to you as you pick up: “This is captain Danni from the Israeli intelligence. You have five minutes to evacuate the house before planes bomb it, you have been warned.”

One of the most attention-grabbing artwork displayed in the hotel’s museum is Banksy’s own “a tooth for a tooth” statue. It seems that for every tooth from the occupation, thousands of Palestinians’ were taken in retribution.

Meanwhile, one of the strangest stories regarding the establishment of this hotel is the famous piano company Yamaha’s refusal to donate a piano to the Walled Off. Banksy then painted over the company’s name on the purchased piano, saying there was no need to provide such publicity for the instrument company.
Nasser Lahham

Search rooms imitating military checkpoints, tear gas canisters and other bullet casings used by the occupation, fountains shaped like bullet-riddled water tanks are all what you see at this hotel. Words cannot transfer the heartbeats you feel when visiting the place… it is an experience that you can only fully fathom after going through it.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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