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Welcome to the wall: artist Banksy opens Bethlehem hotel

Banksy, the elusive British street artist has opened a hotel next to Israel's brutalist style wall in Bethlehem.

Although Israelis are officially banned by Tel Aviv from entering the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in the West Bank, the hotel, which opened on Friday, is situated in an area just outside the city which is under Israeli control.

Squeezed into a space right next to the separation barrier, the Walled-Off Hotel (riffing on Waldorf Hotel, which sounds the same in a southern English accent) boasts the "worst-view in the world" from its presidential suite. The hotel's manager told him that staff did not know of Banksy's involvement until minutes before it opened.

While most Palestinian cities in the West Bank are forbidden for Israelis to visit, the part of Bethlehem where the hotel is located is under Israeli control, meaning Israeli tourists seeking to understand the reality of the occupation can also visit.

In the revered birth town of Jesus, the Walled Off hotel stands three storeys high. Its opening was created to coincide with the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration that helped lead to the creation of Israel - when, Banksy notes, a hapless Britain "started re-arranging the furniture - with chaotic results".




The hotel also has its own art gallery and an exhibition dedicated exclusively to the wall, which features contributions from Palestinians and Israelis.

The Banksy statement said the hotel "offers a warm welcome to people from all sides of the conflict and across the world" and was financed by the artist.

The cheapest rooms were available from $30 a night. The project took 14 months to complete and was commissioned under complete secrecy - a request made by Banksy to protect his anonymity.

The hotel is also home to a small art gallery featuring work by Palestinian artists, and a museum that chronicles the history of the region. The artist has painted several images on the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank, including a drawing of a little girl with balloons flying over the barrier.

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