by Raf Sanchez, The Telegraph, March 3, 2017
The Presidential Suite boasts “the worst view of any hotel in the world”. The piano lounge is decorated with mounted CCTV cameras. And the doorman in the top hat at the front stands just feet from one of the Middle East’s most-reviled structures.
But it wouldn’t be a Banksy hotel without some dystopian strangeness.
The elusive British artist has opened a hotel wedged up against the Israeli security wall that wraps around Bethlehem.
The 10-room Walled Off Hotel - built in the style of a colonial club, complete with delicate china and deep leather sofas - stands in the shadow of a wall considered illegal by most of the international community.
All of its rooms look out onto the wall’s bleak concrete slabs and its upper floors stand eye-to-eye with the Israeli watch towers that loom over parts of Bethlehem.
The hotel was built in complete secrecy over a 14-month period, surprising even Palestinian officials when its doors suddenly flew open on Friday.
Banksy has gone to great lengths to disguise his identity and if he was present for the opening day, he did not make himself known. Instead a two-page press release described his vision for “a three-storey cure for fanaticism, with limited car parking”.
The hotel is aimed at attracting foreign visitors to a corner of the occupied West Bank where they might not usually stay, at once giving a badly-needed boost to the Palestinian economy and showing them the realities of life surrounded by the wall.
The hotel opening is designed to coincide with the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 statement by the British government in favour of a Jewish homeland that helped pave the way for the creation of Israel.
“It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started re-arranging the furniture - with chaotic results,” Banksy said. “I don’t know why but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences.”
Banksy has had a connection with Bethlehem for over a decade and famously did a mural of a dove of peace strapped into a bulletproof vest.
The hotel is decorated with dozens of new works by the street artist. One painting shows an Israeli watch tower with Palestinian children swinging around it like a carousel. In another a bucolic village is bulldozed by an armoured vehicle.
But the hotel is meant to be a genuine place to stay and not just a political statement.
The Presidential Suite on the top floor boasts a cavernous red bed and a jacuzzi in the middle of the room - a decor that might suit Donald Trump. The suite includes a small cinema room and a bar.
But no amount of luxury can shield guests from the ever-present wall which fills the view from all of the windows and the balcony.
It is not clear how much the luxury rooms will cost per night but there is dormitory-style room where guests can stay in a bunk bed for $30 (£25)
The Israeli wall was built during the Second Intifada by the Israeli government with the stated aim of stopping the suicide bombers who ravaged Israeli cities.
But critics argue the Bethlehem wall, which is only partially built, does little to deter attackers who can enter Israel in other places and is instead meant as a land grab. In 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled the wall was built illegally.
The hotel employs 45 people from the local area and its manager, Wissam Salsah, shrugged off fears that it could suck business away from other Palestinian hotels.
“We hope that we’re going to support a tourism that already exists in Bethlehem, known as Banksy tourism. I hope we’re going to generate millions of dollars for the economy of Bethlehem,” he said.
The hotel also features a small museum on the history of the wall and an art gallery showcasing the works of local Palestinian artists.
The hotel is built in Area C of the occupied West Bank, meaning that Israelis are able to come.
“I’m hoping that Israelis will come and visit us here,” said Mr Salsah. It’s a great opportunity for them to see this wonderful art and see the impact of the wall on the Palestinians.”