BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - Guests began arriving at the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem on Monday, the quirky guesthouse created by British street artist Banksy that stands a few feet away from Israel’s towering security barrier in the occupied West Bank.
The three-storey hotel, its low-lit bar and restaurant decorated like a British colonial clubhouse but with ironic works by the artist covering the walls, was unveiled two weeks ago but has only now opened to overnight stays.
There are 10 rooms, ranging from a budget barracks-style accommodation for backpackers to a presidential suite that can sleep six. None of the rooms has a view — all of them look out on Israel’s five-meter, graffiti-covered concrete wall.
The Bristol-based artist, who has become a global phenomenon over the past decade but whose real identity is a closely guarded secret, has described the guesthouse as having “the worst views of any hotel in the world”.
That has not deterred guests.
“I came because I heard Banksy opened a new hotel and I was curious,” said one visitor arriving from Melbourne, Australia. “I wanted to check it out and check out the West Bank, too.
“The hotel with the worst views, that’s quite interesting. It’s unique.”
Manager Wissam Salsa, who kept the project secret for more than a year as building work was completed and local staff were trained, said the hotel was fully booked until June.
“We are expecting 18 guests to arrive this afternoon from different parts of the world, from the United Kingdom, the United States, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia and Finland,” he said.
The mayor of Bethlehem said that while the town where Jesus was born already attracted a large number of tourists to sites like the Church of the Nativity, the Walled Off added an extra dimension.
“(It’s) a very significant addition to the entity of Bethlehem as a touristic city,” said Mayor Vera Baboun.
“Having Banksy putting all his paintings in the hotel, it has significant political messages,” she said, suggesting it would draw attention to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which began in June 1967, after the six-day Middle East war.
Bedroom partitions and hallways are embellished with the Banksy’s stencil graffiti work. One reveals an Israeli soldier and masked Palestinian youth having a pillow fight, and a statue of a chimpanzee bell-boy stands on the entrance, garments falling out of the suitcase he holds.
Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Richard Lough