Not far from the place in Bethlehem where Jesus is said to have been born there’s a gift shop dedicated to Banksy. In fact, it seems the whole quarter is given over to this infamous graffiti artist from my home town of Bristol.
Before purchasing some prints of graffiti he has done in the occupied West Bank, I had lunch in ‘Banksy’s Restaurant’ – a room filled with reproductions of his colourful work.
The shop’s owner, Yamen, told me that he has met the secretive Banksy on his trips to the region and was inspired to open a store where visitors could buy the artist’s work.
In a land where the Palestinian people have their daily lives controlled by the Israeli military, Banksy’s work speaks volumes. I love the picture where a donkey (central to the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem) is captured next to an Israeli soldier, machine gun poised.
Much of the graffiti in the West Bank is on the Palestinian side giant of the separation wall with Israel. For the people that live beside this ghastly structure, it feels like being in a prison.
I saw one house near Bethlehem where the wall surrounds a Palestinian home on three sides. The inhabitants can’t even open their windows, on account of ‘security reasons’.
But while the wall is oppressing (Palestinians talk of it as the ‘apartheid wall’), for artists the wall is a giant canvas. In a place where protests can lead to soldiers using deadly tear gas, this is a way that people have found to make their voices heard by the outside world.
It’s the idea of military occupation that has captivated many artists. But many also have hope in painting pictures keys in the hope that one day they will return to the lands they’ve been evicted from.
Categories: Middle East