By Ilan Ben Zion and Isaac Scharf | The Associated Press
TEL AVIV, Israel — A long-lost painting by British graffiti artist Banksy has re-emerged in a swank art gallery in downtown Tel Aviv, a world away from a concrete wall an hour’s drive and in the occupied West Bank, where it Initially sprayed.
The relocation of the painting – which depicts a slingshot-toting rat and was probably intended to protest Israeli occupation – raises ethical questions about the removal of the artwork from the occupied territory and the display of such politically charged pieces. from where they are in different settings. were created.
The painting initially appeared near Israel’s secession barrier in the West Bank-occupied city of Bethlehem and was one of several works created in secret around 2007. He employed Banksy’s trademark absurd and dystopian imagery to protest Israel’s decades-long annexation of the territories Palestinians want. 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 Eberzel, an Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was only displaying the work, leaving its interpretation to others.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the piece’s authenticity, but Abergel said the cracks and scrapes in the concrete served as “a fingerprint” that proves it is the same piece that appeared on the artist’s website. Is.
The 70-kilometre (43-mile) journey from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. A 900-pound concrete slab had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military outpost—daily features of Palestinian life and targets of Banksy’s biting satire.
Abergel, who is a partner at Tel Aviv Gallery, said he had bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian colleague in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose the amount paid or identify the seller, but insisted on the validity of the deal.
The graffiti artwork was spray-painted on a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a soaring concrete section of the secession barrier.
Not long after, the painting was frescoed by someone who had obscured the painting and scattered “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block. Abergel said Palestinian residents cut the painting up and kept it in private residences until earlier this year.
He said the relocation involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian ally and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed on Banksy’s work. The massive block was then enclosed in a steel frame so that it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and driven through a checkpoint until it arrived in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.
It was not possible to independently verify his account of his travels.
The piece now stands on an ornately patterned tile floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Gallery owner Baruch Kashkash said the nearly 2-square-metre (-yard) block was so heavy that it had to be brought inside by a crane, and could barely be moved through the door.
Israel controls all access to the West Bank, and Palestinians need an Israeli permit to travel in or out and to import and export goods. They can be stopped and searched by Israeli troops at any time, even when traveling within the West Bank.
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 territories administered by the Palestinian Authority for security reasons, but there is little enforcement of that ban.
Palestinians have spent decades seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, a region occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. The peace process had stalled more than 10 years ago.
Eberel said the artwork’s move was not coordinated with the Israeli military, and that his Palestinian allies, whom he declined to name, were responsible for transporting it to Israel and crossing it through military posts. He said he had no plans to sell the piece.
According to the international treaty governing cultural property, of which Israel is a signatory, the occupying powers must prevent the removal of cultural property from the occupied territories. It is unclear how the 1954 Hague Convention would apply in this instance.
“This is the theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jerez Qumsih, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism. “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 certainly an illegal act.”
The Israeli Army and COGAT, the body of the Israeli Defense Ministry responsible for coordinating civil affairs with the Palestinians, said they had no knowledge of the artwork or its transfer.
Banksy has created several artworks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, including one depicting a girl searching for a body on an Israeli soldier, another showing a dove wearing a flak jacket, And a masked protestor is throwing a bouquet of flowers. He also designed the “Wall of Hotel” guesthouse in Bethlehem, which is filled with his artwork.
A spokesperson for Banksy did not respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time a street artist’s work has been taken off the West Bank. In 2008, two other paintings – “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search” – were removed from the walls of a bus shelter and butcher shop in Bethlehem. They were eventually purchased by galleries in the United States and Britain where they were exhibited in 2011.
Ebergel says it is up to the audience to draw their own conclusions about the artwork and its implications.
“We brought it to Tel Aviv’s main street to show the audience and show our message,” Abergel said. “He should be happy with that.”
Sharaf reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ariz Hajboun in Jerusalem contributed to this report.