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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Banksy’s West Bank hotel goes viral at London tourism show

Palestinian minister of tourism lauded the street artist’s commitment to the occupied territories

Street artist Banksy has shown his continued support for the Palestinian cause by unveiling a new piece of art at the World Travel Market on Tuesday.

The British graffiti artist, who remains anonymous, displayed the new work as part of Palestine’s stand at the London travel tourism conference.

The artist's work can be seen in cities around the world, including a number of sites in the Palestinian Territories.

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To maximise the elusive artist’s currency in the country, the ministry of tourism based its pitch to future travellers on his most recent venture, the Walled Off Hotel.

The hotel, which opened early last year, boasts the “worst view in the world” – directly on to the concrete wall that Israel built around the West Bank in the early 2000s. It also houses a museum, shop and meeting rooms made available to local groups.

The bespoke work was displayed on two grey concrete slabs, mimicking the 700-kilometre-long wall that separates Israel and the rest of the West Bank, shows two angels representing Israel and Palestine attempting to pry the wall apart.

Announcing the work, Bansky posted on his Instagram page that “ironically the neighbours have complained it’s too tall”.

Palestine’s Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah credits the Banksy effect for driving younger people to visit the country, diversifying the tourism industry from religious tourism to a wider audience.

“In one year, that nine-room hotel attracted 50,000 tourists, she told The National.

“This means the hotel is attracting tourists… mainly people who are interested in the culture, arts and different things from what we used to have in Palestine for Christian pilgrimage."

Not only is the hotel proving a success for the tourism industry in Bethlehem, it is helping to change views of what the West Bank is really like. Ms Maayah believes the word of an outsider can help get across that message.

“Banksy, whether he or she, is not Palestinian… he’s a person who visited Palestine, was touched by what he saw… and wanted to show what he felt. He wanted show the suffering he saw when he visited, and I believe this would help more than us [the ministry for tourism] talking about it.”

The Palestinian team at the WTM event also handed out limited-edition posters by the artist that showed children using a watchtower as a fairground ride. The slogan underneath reads: “Visit historic Palestine, the Israeli army liked it so much they never left!”

Ms Maayah said Banksy was not only promoting the political situation in the Palestinian Territories, but also what tourists would want to see from a holiday destination.

“The way he delivers things is different from other people. He promotes Palestine and focuses on the occupation, but at the same time he is talking about the beauty of Palestine.”

The minister said the country has so much to offer travellers outside of the traditional religious sites, mentioning a burgeoning hotel scene in cities such as Hebron and Jericho.

Much of the Palestinian Territories have been declared safe to travel to by foreign governments giving advice to their citizens, but issues remain with travel to the area. Currently visitors are required to fly into Israel or Jordan and pass through Israeli checkpoints to enter – an arduous, uncertain process that can put off travellers.

Once inside the Holy Land, tours are also less likely to be guided by Palestinians, giving a warped picture of the reality of life there, Ms Maayah said. Only 50 Palestinian guides are allowed to access Jerusalem by the Israeli state, yet Israeli guides are given access to all the areas they require.