The interior of the Presidential Suite is fit for a king… or a corrupt head of state. A simian bellboy and a poncy doorman in a top hat usher you in at the front door, and the Piano Bar (with its auto-playing baby grand) is dotted with CCTV cameras. The Walled Off Hotel, an ‘all-inclusive vandals’ resort’ in Bethlehem, deliberately faces one of the Middle East’s most vilified structures – the wall that separates Israel from Palestine’s West Bank.
Staying at the Walled Off is like sleeping in a work of art – one that’s taken a decidely dystopian turn with the influence of the elusive British street artist known only as Banksy (and it wouldn’t be Banksy’s work without a touch – or bucket-load – of dystopia, now, would it?) What the structure represents is inescapable, and the hotel’s eclectic interiors pose a stark contrast to the world and the wall outside, prompting visitors to pause and think.
The artist’s new project has been decorated to resemble a modern version of an English gentlemen’s club, referencing Britain’s role in the region during the colonial period. The shores in his moody oil seascapes are strewn with refugees’ life jackets and Grecian statues choke on tear-gas fumes, while Banksy’s trademark stencils are found in the majority of the corridors and rooms. Some guest bedrooms have been decorated by visiting artists such as Sami Musa from Ramallah in the West Bank and French-Canadian Dominique Petrin, and more works can be found in a gallery on the first floor, which displays local art exclusively.
In true Banksy fashion, the hotel was built in complete secrecy: even Palestinian officials were taken aback when it opened suddenly on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration – the 1917 statement by the British government in favour of a Jewish homeland that led to the creation of Israel. ‘It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started rearranging the furniture – with chaotic results,’ says the artist.
With 10 rooms, including the Presidential Suite (above) with its giant red bed, Jacuzzi, bar and small cinema room, the Walled Off Hotel certainly makes a statement – but it’s also a genuine place to stay. Aimed at attracting foreigners to an area of the occupied West Bank they might generally choose to avoid, it seeks to boost the Palestinian economy, at the same time drawing attention to the significance of the wall. While Banksy paid for the installation costs, he has now handed it over to be run as an independent local business. And for the budget-conscious, there’s also a no-frills dormitory kitted out with surplus items from an Israeli military barracks, where guests can overnight in a bunk bed for $30 (about R400). Oh, and be sure to try the Walled Off Salad.
To read more or to make a booking, visit walledoffhotel.com.