Welcome to Bethlehem, Palestine and the Walled Off Hotel – or as it is brilliantly and poignantly marketed – “The worst view of any hotel in the world”.
The Walled Off Hotel is tucked away in a small street snaking along in the shadow of the over 700-km-long monstrously imposing wall cutting through the West Bank – separating the Israeli and Palestinian territories. The complex is housed in a former pottery shop and combines a hotel, museum, gallery and a gift shop.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a facade with ironically painted classical columns, burned out light bulbs, and a fabulous fiberglass bellboy.
The hotel is the brain child of the world-renown graffiti artist Banksy – famous for his thought-provoking and politically-charged projects. The hotel’s idea is to bring the Palestinian message and struggle to a broader audience through art and music, making it a perfect example of cultural resistance.
The lobby area is packed full of Banksy works and is centered around a piano bar – decorated to give a not-so-subtle nod to Britain’s impact on Palestine by satirising their (misguided) intervention in the Middle East.
A quick history lesson – in 1917, the British government penned the Balfour Declaration announcing its official support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” on Palestinian territory. And so it began – over a century marred by conflict, cruelty and human rights violations.
The Artist Room – Banksy
The hotel has a total of eight options for its guests – the Budget Barracks, two artist rooms, four scenic suites, and one presidential suite. All the rooms have one thing in common – the view – they look out on the giant concrete blocks of the wall.
We opted for the Banksy artist room where the focal point is the mural of an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian protester in the midst of a pillow fight (which I am not going to lie – we fully re-enacted!).
The rooms’ antique fittings and plush textures are in stark contrast with the carefully selected book titles and politically-charged brilliance of almost every artwork – by now a signature of the hotel’s creator.
In addition to Banksy, Dominique Petrin and Sami Musa have contributed their art to some of the guest rooms with more artists to come. One of the coolest things about sleeping inside the Banksy suite is the fact that we were literally sleeping inside a contemporary work of art. Case and point:
The Dictator Suite
As it was described to us, the Dictator suite has anything a corrupt head of state would need – from the kitschy crystal chandelier, plush zebra print sofa, all the way to the stuffed peacock. So brilliantly tacky – I loved it!
The suite also comes equipped with a tiki bar, jacuzzi, swing and of course, a bullet-riddled water tank to complete the dream suite setting of any wanna-be dictator. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a giant round velvet curtained-off bed… I mean, really…
The hotel offers tours – among them a walking tour to the Aida refugee camp – hosted by locals, who put the situation on the ground in the context of the people who live there – both the settlers and Palestinian citizens.
These experiences and perspectives were eye-opening for me and I highly recommend getting to know the locals and their views of the occupation. It brought me invaluable insight on the daily challenges they face and coping mechanisms they have developed in order to overcome their circumstances.
I will finish this post with one of Banksy’s most famous works of art, in the hopes that one day soon, I will be able to say – peace is within reach.