How Did a Banksy West Bank Mural End Up at an Israeli Gallery?

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In 2007, the British street artist Banksy painted a rat with a slingshot in the West Bank, ostensibly to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He spray-painted the work on the concrete wall of an abandoned Israeli military outpost near the towering “apartheid wall” that Israel built around the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Now, the work has appeared at Israel’s Urban Gallery in an upscale neighborhood of Tel Aviv near the city’s financial district.

Art dealer Koby Abergel, who works with the Urban Gallery, said he purchased the painting from a “Palestinian associate” but did not disclose the seller’s identity nor the painting’s cost, according to the Associated Press. Abergel said that Palestinians had cut the painting from its original location and that his “associate” transported it to Tel Aviv in the middle of the night without coordination from the Israeli military, also arguing that the entire transaction was legal. Hyperallergic was unable to reach Abergel for comment and the Associated Press was unable to confirm his story.

The emergence of the painting in Tel Aviv sparked the anger of Palestinians. “This is theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” a spokesperson for the Palestinian Tourism Ministry told the Associated Press. “These were paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem, for Palestine, and for visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine.”

In order to arrive in Tel Aviv, the painting — made on a 900-pound piece of concrete — had to pass through an Israeli military checkpoint.

Banksy, who painted a series of works on the fence in the early 2000s, has previously called it “a disgrace” and “the world’s most invasive and degrading structure.”

The International Court of Justice declared Israel’s separation wall illegal in 2004 and it has been repeatedly condemned by other countries and the United Nations for its violations of human rights. (In 2017, former US President Donald Trump pointed to the fence as inspiration for his wall along the United States-Mexico border.)

In 2017, Banksy opened his Walled Off Hotel inside the fenced area in Bethlehem, overlooking an Israeli military checkpoint. In a 2019 work at his hotel, Banksy created a politicized nativity scene that depicts the looming fence. The hotel’s website also makes no secret of Bansky’s thoughts on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Hyperallergic was unable to reach Banksy’s representative for comment, but the painting’s journey seems to represent some of the very themes that the artist has sought to illuminate through his art.