TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A long-running painting by British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced at an 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 stood. initially sprayed.
The relocation of the painting – which depicts a rat in a sling and was likely intended to protest Israel’s occupation – raises ethical questions about removing artworks from occupied territories and displaying such political pieces in radically different contexts. that were created.
The painting first appeared near Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem and was one of several works created in secret around 2007. They used Banksy’s absurd and dystopian imagery to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of land the Palestinians want for a future state .
It 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 elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply presenting the work, leaving its interpretation to others.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the authenticity of the piece, but Abergel said the cracks and scratches in the concrete serve as a “fingerprint” that proves it is the same piece featured on the artist’s website.
The 70-kilometer (43-mile) journey he made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 900-pound 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 the amount he paid or identify the seller, but insisted the deal was legal.
The graffiti artwork was spray-painted on a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a tall concrete section of the separation barrier.
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 piece now stands on an ornately patterned tile floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Baruch Kashkash, the owner of the gallery, said the approximately 2 square meter block was so heavy that it had to be carried by crane and could barely be moved through the door.
Israel controls all access to the West Bank and Palestinians require Israeli permits to travel in or out and 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 prohibits its citizens from entering areas administered by the Palestinian Authority for security reasons, but enforcement of this ban is minimal.
Palestinians have spent decades seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. The peace process stalled more than 10 years ago.
Abergel said 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.
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 COGAT, 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 numerous 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 dove wearing a jacket and a masked protester firing a bouquet of flowers. He also designed the ‘Walled Off Hotel’ guesthouse. in Bethlehem, which is filled with his works of art.
A representative for Banksy did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s not the first time 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 a butcher shop in Bethlehem. They were eventually bought by galleries in the United States and Britain 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.”
Scharf reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Areej Hazboun in Jerusalem contributed to this report.