Luxury mixed with art. Comfort dressed in conflict. Sleep inside a work of art. For $30 a night you can stay inside the art of Banksy, the world-famous, but anonymous, graffiti artist.
To live with an artwork is something different, to glimpse it from the corner of your eye. — Diane Arbus
The Walled Off Hotel bills itself as the hotel with the worst view in the world. And it doesn’t disappoint. Nearly every window from the hotel opens up to a 30-foot wall of concrete. It is the first ever hotel designed and financed by Banksy.
His mark — already visible on the concrete wall outside the entrance of the hotel — is even more evident in the nine guest rooms and presidential suite. Banksy did most of the artwork himself, from the cherubs on life support hanging above the player piano to the Israeli soldier pillow fighting with the masked Palestinian above one of the beds. Each room has its own unique style. One room is painted to look like the guest is surrounded by concrete walls, and yet somehow, the room still manages to feel comfortable. Another room feels like an army barracks — furnished with bunk beds with foot lockers. The presidential suite, complete with its own mini-theater, study, and bar, also has a luxurious jacuzzi. But the water for the jacuzzi comes from what appears to be a water tank speckled with bullet holes.
The hotel sits in Area C, a portion of the West Bank under Israeli control. That means both Israelis and Palestinians are allowed to visit. A few steps away is Area A, where Israelis are forbidden, while many Palestinians face major restrictions in Israel. The Walled Off Hotel is intended as a place of meeting — a safe space for discussion.
The hotel itself, in its art and its literature, refuses to take one side while acknowledging both. The wall “divides the nation of Palestine from the state of Israel and restricts movement between the two for citizens of both sides,” the hotel’s website reads. “Depending on who you talk to its either a vital security measure or an instrument of apartheid.”
The wall, mere steps from the hotel’s front door, has been described as the biggest canvas in the world. Political graffiti, art, and different messages adorn nearly the entire length of the wall as it cuts between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Banksy painted nine pictures on and near the wall a decade ago.
An art supply store is connected to the hotel in case guests want to add their own message to the separation barrier.
Walls are hot right now, but I was into them long before Trump made it cool, — Banksy
Get there while it is still open—which is to the end of 2017 —the centenary year. 2017 marks a hundred years since the British took control of Palestine and helped kick start a century of confusion and conflict.
Along with rooms, the hotel also offers other features for visitors:
Britain got its hands on Palestine in 1917 and the piano bar is themed as a colonial outpost from those heady days. It is equipped with languid ceiling fans, leather bound couches and an air of undeserved authority. Guests can peruse a collection of Banksy artworks that include vandalised oil paintings and statues choking on tear gas fumes. Warm scones and freshly brewed tea are served daily on fine bone china and the Walled Off Salad should not be missed.
The Piano: And through it all the piano plays – by itself. Our remote controlled mechanical baby grand has been programmed with a bespoke score of contemporary arrangements, plus every night it will play back a concert recorded exclusively for the hotel. We start our residency programme with 3D who presents the greatest hits of Massive Attack played with three hands. Concerts start every night from 7pm. Upcoming artists include Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Flea and Hans Zimmer.
This space enjoys complete autonomy from the rest of the hotel and is curated by the venerated historian and critic Dr. Housni Alkhateeb Shehada. He has assembled a permanent collection of real heft and significance. Many of the most notable Palestinian artists from the past 20 years are here – including Sliman Mansour with his iconic “And the Convoy Keeps Going”. An adjoining space is dedicated to temporary shows by upcoming artists. The gallery sells original work, prints and postcards.
This home-made attraction is dedicated solely to the biography of the wall. It contains state-of-the-art audio visual presentations and a very old tree. Other highlights includes an animated history of the region, military pornography and original beach sculpture from Gaza. The cinema plays excerpts from the mighty Oscar nominated ‘Five Broken Cameras’ – and one of those very same bullet-damaged cameras is on display.
Curated in association with Dr Gavin Grindon from Essex University the museum contains almost fully fact-checked material and will be an ongoing repository for local stories, artefacts and testimonies.
Can I visit the hotel if I’m not staying there? The museum and art gallery are open to non-residents every day from 11am – 7:30pm. The piano bar is open every day to non-residents, serving food and drink from 11am – 10pm. Coach parties are by appointment.
And the big question:
Is it safe? Yes. The hotel is located in a bustling area fully open to tourists from across the world. It has all the restaurants, bars and taxis you’d expect. It’s 500 metres from the checkpoint to Jerusalem and a mile from the centre of Bethlehem. The official British Foreign Office advice declares it an entirely safe place to visit – and like any holiday you should check the FCO website or equivalent before travelling.
This story is an amalgum of information gathered from various news sources. I have not stayed at The Walled off Hotel, though I’ve added it to my bucket list. Read more about the hotel on CNN.com, Aljazerra.com, and BBC.com