After mysteriously disappearing from the occupied West Bank, a painting by the secretive artist Banksy has reappeared in an art gallery in Israel under equally mysterious circumstances. Palestinian officials say the graffiti artwork was stolen.
The street art piece—which shows a rat holding a slingshot in an apparent satire of the Israeli occupation—was created by the elusive British artist around 2007. It appeared on a cement block used at an abandoned Israeli army post in the city of Bethlehem. West Bank near Israel’s separation barrier. Banksy has also painted several works on the massive concrete wall itself, which he has previously said “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison”. But now, the rat has found its way to the other side of the massive dam and to the Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, about 43 miles from where it first appeared.
“This is theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jeries Qumsieh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. Associated Press. “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.”
Not surprisingly, the Israeli art dealer who bought the 900-pound concrete slab encased in the artwork sees the situation somewhat differently. “We brought it to the main street of Tel Aviv to show it to the public and show its messages,” Abergel told the AP. “He should be happy with it,” Abergel said, referring to Banksy, who has not commented on the artwork’s relocation.
Exactly how the extremely heavy bulge made it out of Palestine is unclear. He would have to go through at least one military checkpoint to get out of the West Bank. Abergel did not reveal how much he paid for the piece or the name of the person he bought it from, but insisted the deal was perfectly legal. He added that the Palestinian residents cut off the part of the courtyard about 2 suqare from the square and kept it in private houses until the beginning of the year.
Careful restoration work was carried out to remove an acrylic paint message reading ‘RIP Banksy Rat’ that had been etched over the artwork. The giant slab was then encased in a steel frame so it could be loaded onto a truck and passed through the checkpoint before arriving in Tel Aviv at night.
Abergel’s account of the artwork’s journey has not been verified. He claims that the Israeli military was not involved in its removal and that it was his unnamed Palestinian collaborators who arranged for the piece to be transported to Israel. He says he has no plans to sell the piece, which could be worth a fortune.
This isn’t the first time Banksy’s artwork has been removed from the West Bank. In 2008, his paintings “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search” were cut from the walls of a bus shelter and a butcher shop in Bethlehem and eventually sold to galleries in the US and Britain.