Palestinians say Banksy’s West Bank art ‘stolen’ as it reappears in Tel Aviv gallery

Palestinians say Banksy’s West Bank art ‘stolen’ as it reappears in Tel Aviv gallery

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

The relocation of the piece – which depicts a rat in a sling – raises questions about the removal of the artworks from the occupied territory from which they were intended to be displayed.

The painting originally 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 absurd and dystopian imagery to protest the decades-long occupation of Israel. lands the Palestinians want for a future state.

Now, it resides in the Urban Gallery in the heart of the financial district in Tel Aviv, surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.

Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer, reveals the resurfaced Banksy piece.  AP

“This is the story of David and Goliath,” said Kobi Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply presenting the work, leaving its interpretation to others.

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

The 70km journey he made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 408kg slab of concrete would have to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint – everyday features of Palestinian life and targets of Banksy’s satire.

Abergel, who is a partner in the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian partner in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose how much he paid or identify the seller, but insisted the deal was legal.

The graffiti artwork was spray-painted on a concrete block, which was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a tall concrete section of the separation barrier.

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

Jeries Qumsieh, Palestinian Ministry of Tourism

Some time later, the painting itself was graffitied by someone who hid the painting and wrote “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block. Palestinian residents cut down the painting and kept it in private homes until early this year, Abergel said.

He said the relocation involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian partner and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed over Banksy’s work. The massive block was then enclosed in a steel frame so it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and passed through a checkpoint, arriving in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

His account of his journey could not be independently verified.

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

The piece now stands on an ornately patterned tile floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Baruch Kashkash, owner of the gallery, said the approximately two square meter block was so heavy that it had to be carried by crane and could barely be moved through the doorway.

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

Abergel said AP the movement of the artwork was not coordinated with the Israeli military and that his Palestinian collaborators, whom he declined to name, were responsible for transporting it to Israel and passing it through military checkpoints. He said he has no plans to sell the piece.

Browse the gallery for photos of Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

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

“This is theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jeries Qumsieh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. “These were paintings by an international artist about Bethlehem, about Palestine, and about visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine. Therefore, transporting them, manipulating them and stealing them is definitely an illegal act.”

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

Banksy has created several artworks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, including one depicting a girl performing a body search on an Israeli soldier, another showing a pigeon in a jacket and a masked protester throwing a bouquet flowers. He also designed the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, which is filled with his artwork.

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

This is not the first time that the work of the street artist 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 a butcher 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 brought it to the main street of Tel Aviv to show it to the public and show its messages,” Abergel said. “He should be happy with that.”

Updated: August 06, 2022, 9:30 am

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