Internationally-renowned street artist Banksy caused a frenzy today after bringing a piece of the occupied West Bank's Separation Wall to central London.
The Separation Wall was featured at the World Travel Market at London's Excel event centre today, marking the first time Banksy has participated in a travel exhibition. The colossal concrete structure – daubed with an image of two cherubs trying to break through its cracks – caused a frenzy among the exhibition's attendees, with scores of people flocking to see the iconic image.
People queued across the centre to get a glimpse of the artwork, while Banksy posters, Palestinian scarves and traditional cuisine were handed out to those waiting in line. Despite being one of the smallest stands in the Middle East hall, security struggled to contain the number of people surrounding Palestine's stand.
Among the organisers of the stand was Wisam Salsaa, manager of the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, southeast of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Since it opened in 2017, the hotel has gained international attention for featuring Banksy's work and attracted visitors from around the world. Salsaa spoke to MEMO and explained that:
We are here today to tell people to come and see the Walled Off Hotel in Palestine and come visit our museum and gallery. This is the first time that Banksy had a stall at a travel market – he's never been in the field of tourism before but after starting the hotel in Bethlehem in 2017 I think he became more interested in promoting Palestine as a tourist destination.
Salsaa continued: "From day one the Walled Off Hotel has been a local business, but without Banksy's name it would not be as big as it is."
"Bringing his artwork to the World Travel Market today, Banksy has been a great help to the Palestine stand and brought lots of attention from all the media, the exhibitors and visitors," he added.
The stir that Banksy's artwork created took the organisers by surprise, with organiser Majed Ishaq telling MEMO:
Honestly, we didn't expect the response that we received today. We expected many people to come to our stand but not to this extent. The first minute when they opened the gates to the visitors we found ourselves with hundreds of people in our pavilion.
Ishaq explained: "I've been to Banksy's hotel many times and organised tours for VIP guests, but I think it's a great way to tell the story of Palestine in a positive, direct way and raise awareness of what has happened there in the past 100 years."
He added: "We're getting great exposure from being here today alongside other Arab countries and hopefully boosting tourism to the Holy Land."
This is not the first time Banksy and the Walled Off Hotel have sought to capture the attention of British audiences and raise awareness of the situation in Palestine. Last year Wisam Salsaa worked with British film director Danny Boyle to create the BBC documentary "Alternativity", which focused on the Walled Off Hotel and a group of Palestinian children in Bethlehem as they rehearsed for a Christmas nativity play.
The documentary showed the daily reality of Palestinians living in the shadow of the Separation Wall – which was constructed in 2002 and extends 712 kilometres across the occupied West Bank. The Wall often cuts deep into Palestinian territory, cutting off Palestinian villages from one another and restricting freedom of movement, impacting the lives of the some three million Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank.