By Jaclynn Ashly and Reem Alqam – Bethlehem (Ma’an)
Israel’s infamous separation wall in the occupied West Bank, while cutting off Palestinians from their lands and religious sites, isolating communities, and eroding the livelihood of scores of Palestinians along its route, has become an unlikely breeding ground for tourism.
Adjacent to the graffiti-stained separation wall in the city of Bethlehem, which is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements, and next door to the Aida refugee camp, elusive UK artist Banksy now welcomes guests to his latest project: the Walled Off Hotel.
In a message written in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, a plaque posted at the entrance to the hotel-cum-art museum tells its guests not to “choose sides” in the conflict. In describing the separation barrier, deemed illegal by International Court of Justice, the statement says: “The wall is a lie. It sells the idea that there is a simple divide between the people here, but there isn’t.”
But according to Palestinian-American journalist and author Ramzy Baroud, Bethlehem’s isolation from Jerusalem through Israel’s separation wall and two massive illegal settlements — with a third on its way — is far from “a lie,” and has taken a tangible toll on the city’s economy, which once boasted a thriving tourism industry thanks to its many historical and religious sites.
“This tragic reality left Bethlehem, one of the most endeared Palestinian cities, struggling for survival, and reduced it in many instances to utilize its very subjugation as a method of generating income,” Baroud told Ma’an.
Baroud, meanwhile, commented that certain aspects of the hotel were deeply offensive to Palestinians. Referring to one painting hung in a $265-per-night suite that lightheartedly depicts an Israeli soldier having a pillow fight with a Palestinian protester, Baroud said that it was “deeply insulting” and “belittles the sacrifice that thousands of Palestinians have made throughout the years.”
– Read article in full: Banksy Hotel Opens in Bethlehem, Eliciting Heated Reactions by Palestinians.