Palestinians claim Banksy’s art in the West Bank was “stolen” as it resurfaces in Tel Aviv gallery

Palestinians claim Banksy’s art in the West Bank was “stolen” as it resurfaces in Tel Aviv gallery

A long-lost Banksy painting has re-emerged in a luxury art gallery in Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive and a world from the concrete wall in the occupied West Bank, where it was originally sprayed.

The transfer of the work – which depicts a mouse with a sling – raises questions about the removal of works of art from the territory occupied by the place where they were to be exhibited.

The painting first appeared near the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, and was one of several works created in secret by the British graffiti artist around 2007. They used Banksy’s typical absurd and dystopian images to protest against Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians desire for a future state.

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

Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer, reveals Banksy's piece, which has resurfaced.  AP

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

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

The 70-kilometer journey he made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 408-kilogram concrete slab was supposed to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint: everyday features of Palestinian life and the goals of Banksy’s stinging satire.

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

The graffiti artwork was spray painted onto a concrete block, which was part of an abandoned Israeli army post in Bethlehem, next to a soaring concrete section of the separation barrier.

This is the theft of the Palestinian people’s property. These were paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem, for Palestine, and for visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine. So transferring, manipulating and stealing them is definitely an illegal act.

Jeries Qumsieh, Palestinian Ministry of Tourism

Sometime later, the painting itself was graffitied by someone who obscured the painting and scribbled “RIP Bansky Rat” on the pad. Palestinian residents cut out the painting and kept it in private residences until earlier this year, Abergel said.

He said the move involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian partner and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed on Banksy’s work. The huge block was then encased in a steel frame so it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and rolled across a roadblock, until it arrived in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

His account of his trip could not be confirmed independently.

The painting of a rat with a slingshot once stood near Israel's separation barrier and was one of several works created in 2007. AP

The piece now sits on a richly decorated tile floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Baruch Kashkash, the gallery owner, said the approximately two-square-meter block was so heavy that it had to be carried inside with a crane and could barely be moved from the door.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank and Palestinians require Israeli permits to travel in or out and to import and export goods.

Abergel said AP the move of the artwork was not coordinated with the Israeli military and that its Palestinian associates, whom it refused to name, were responsible for its movement to Israel and passing through military checkpoints. He said he’s not going to sell the piece.

Scroll through the gallery for photos of Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel guesthouse in Bethlehem

According to the international treaty on 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 Palestinian people’s property,” said Jeries Qumsieh, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. “They 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 certainly an illegal act ”.

The Israeli military and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the body of the Israeli Defense Ministry responsible for coordinating civilian affairs with the Palestinians, said they were unaware of the artwork or its relocation.

In recent years Banksy has created numerous works of art in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including one depicting a girl conducting a body search on an Israeli soldier, another depicting a dove wearing a flak vest and a masked protester. throwing a bouquet of flowers. He also designed the Walled Off Hotel guesthouse in Bethlehem, which is filled with his works of art.

A Banksy representative did not respond to requests for comment from AP.

This isn’t the first time the street artist’s work has been withdrawn from the West Bank. In 2008, two more paintings – wet dog And Stop and search – were removed from the walls of a bus shelter and a butcher’s shop in Bethlehem. They were eventually bought by galleries in the US and UK, 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 him to the main street in Tel Aviv to be shown to the public and to show his messages,” Abergel said. “He should be happy.”

Updated: August 06, 2022, 9:30 am

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