Long-Lost Banksy, Painted in West Bank, Resurfaces in Israel

Secretive artist painted it on concrete slab in West Bank
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 5, 2022 4:11 AM CDT
Long-Lost Banksy Painting Resurfaces in Israel
Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer, reveals the Banksy painting at the Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.   (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

(Newser) – A long-lost painting by the British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced in a swank art gallery in downtown Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive and a world away from the concrete wall in the occupied West Bank where it was initially sprayed.The relocation of the painting—which depicts a slingshot-toting rat and was likely intended to protest the Israel occupation—raises ethical questions about the removal of artwork from occupied territory and the display of such politically charged pieces in radically different settings from where they were created, the AP reports.

The painting initially appeared near Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem and was one of several works created in secret around 2007. They employed Banksy’s trademark absurdist and dystopian imagery to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians want for a future state. Now it resides at the Urban Gallery in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district. "This is the story of David and Goliath," said Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who purchased the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply displaying the work, leaving its interpretation to others.

The graffiti was spray-painted on a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a soaring concrete section of the separation barrier. The 43-mile journey it made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 900-pound concrete slab would have had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint. Abergel, who is a partner with the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian associate in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose the sum he paid or identify the seller, but insisted on the deal's legality.

Abergel said the artwork’s move was not coordinated with the Israeli military, and that his Palestinian associates, whom he declined to name, were responsible for moving it into Israel and crossing through military checkpoints. According to an international treaty governing cultural property, to which Israel is a signatory, occupying powers must prevent the removal of cultural property from occupied territories. "This is theft of the property of the Palestinian people," said Jeries Qumsieh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Tourism Ministry. "These were paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem, for Palestine, and for visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine." (Read more Banksy stories.)

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