Banksy's Walled Off Hotel – Palestine
We hadn’t intended on visiting the new art hotel by world famous graffiti artist known as Banksy. With average room price hovering around $220 per night in a place known to be harsh and inhospitable to it’s own residents (let alone any random tourist who would wander in), it seemed like a magnet for extreme douchiness.
So we were as surprised as anybody to have wound up there not once, but twice during our two week house sit in Jerusalem.
What is the Walled Off Hotel Anyway?
The Walled Off Hotel is an art hotel conceived, designed and funded by the world famous artist Banksy. According to their website their mission is to bring attention to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and to "tell the story of the wall from every side and give visitors the opportunity to discover it for themselves."
It's really a hotel constructed in a neighborhood of Palestine that is part gallery, museum, gift shop and tourist spectacle. It provides jobs and training for locals who may not otherwise have the opportunity to work in the tourist trade, which is a big deal in the Holy Land. Their goal is to stay open for the entirety of 2017, a year which marks the 100th anniversary of the British Mandate (which is a whole other story).
Our First Visit to Banksy's Walled Off Hotel
The first time we went to the Walled Off Hotel we were brought there by our hosts – they wanted to see it as much as they wanted to show it to us. The plan was to have a look around and then have dinner at the hotel.
We were first ushered through the empty dining room and into the gallery where we were told that all the artists are Palestinian and all artwork was for sale. Prices available upon request. The artwork was interesting, but none of it really begged to be purchased, so we took a few free postcards on offer and went down to the museum.
The museum is definitely a highlight of the entire enterprise. It tells the story of the conflict from the people directly impacted by it. There are examples of all the permits required by Palestinians to move between checkpoints, to get jobs, to be on the roof of their house to make repairs to the HVAC and miniature model examples of the deadly machines used to patrol and guard the wall.
There are stories of ancient olive trees being destroyed, children being detained and beaten and jailed for throwing rocks (or just having dirty hands, and apparent indication of rock throwing) and a brief video overview of the entire conflict that is very tongue and cheek and is worth the visit alone.
From the museum we toured the lobby briefly before settling into a table next to the auto play piano which plays pre recorded concerts made exclusively for the Walled Off Hotel. When we visited it was playing the greatest hits of Massive Attack, but upcoming "residencies" include Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Flea and Hans Zimmer. Concerts start at 7p.
Sadly the dinner menu was quite limited given the outsized hunger the four of us possessed. The Walled Off Salad (get it? Waldorf Salad?) was tempting but it was really the only substantial option available, so we went down the block to a restaurant with great hummus.
Our Second Visit to Banksy's Walled Off Hotel
Our second visit to the Walled Off Hotel came after our wonderful tour of Bethlehem with Intrepid Urban Adventures. The other two people on the tour wanted to be dropped off there, and since we were sharing a ride with them back to Jerusalem, we decided to come along.
We had some time to kill as we waited for our taxi to show up, so we sat outside in the shade drinking our delicious fruity non-alcoholic beverage and one of two Palestinian beers on offer. The service was prompt and efficient - the all Palestinian staff had been trained well.
While we were sipping our cocktails and watching the dust rise from every car that came down the unpaved and rubble strewn street, I noticed a family setting up camp before us. Cigarettes were rolled, coffee was consumed and the children used ball point pens to write "graffiti" on the wall. Soon enough they learned that you could buy spray paint in the gift shop.
About the Walled Off Hotel Gift Shop
This is where things turn a little gross and the art and good intentions veer creepily into commodity and commerce. As we sat there these children learned that for a price you can make your own stencil and for a little more you can spray it on the wall near the hotel. Just like Banksy!
There is nothing quite as grating as a child begging their parents for anything, but it's quite revolting to hear a kid saying "mommy, mommy, can I please have money to make graffiti on the wall, pleeeeeaassseeeee". It takes all the good intentions of the Walled Off Hotel and flushes them right down the shitter.
The other half of our tour group wandered off to enjoy the Walled Off attractions mentioned above, and I found them a little bit later enjoying the gift shop making a stencil. In theory this is a great idea. It's crafty, it's art, it's employing locals. You can take the stencil with you should you not want to paint the wall next to everybody else, but I dare you to get through customs with it.
We never intended on visiting, and we never did stay the night so can't speak to the rooms themselves, but judging by the spectacle and the Disney-esque feel of the place, I can't imagine ever wanting to.
Was it interesting? Yes, of course. Did it prompt me to think about the intersection of art and commerce? Yes. Will it bring much needed attention to a terrible situation? Also yes. Will it provide local jobs and training and runoff business to an impoverished area? Absolutely. That said, I'm glad we went, but I'm left wondering if any attempt to capitalize on a revolution can ever feel authentic.