Banksy is used to staging exhibitions unannounced. This week, residents in Bethlehem gave the artist a taste of his own medicine with an ad-hoc show in appreciation of his efforts to diversify and expand tourism in Palestine.
Twenty images of the anonymous street artist’s work were mounted on sandwich boards in the center of Bethlehem, while artists in Gaza have written out “Thank you Banksy” in beach sand.
“Banksy always surprises us,” Yamen Elabed, the organizer of the event, said in a video he created for the artist. “Today, I want to surprise him.” A Bethlehem tour guide, Elabed explains that the guerilla artist’s work has elevated the West Bank city as a global destination even beyond its identity as Jesus’s birthplace.
The idea, Elabed explained to the , is “to show Banksy that we are grateful for the support.”
“He has helped our economy with ‘alternative’ tourism,” the tour guide, who opened a “Banksy Shop” in 2010, added.
More than 300 people attended the public event, each of whom was given a free face mask featuring a Banksy print. Elabed also asked visitors to write notes of appreciation in a book that he plans to send to the artist.
Banksy’s first work in Bethlehem popped up in 2005, when he painted nine small scenes on the 435 mile-long West Bank Barrier built by Israel to keep Palestinians out.
The artist has revisited the site numerous times since then, including in 2017, when he established an elaborate installation project known as the “Walled Off Hotel.” Last month, the artist auctioned off three paintings from the hotel for a combined $2.9 million, donating the proceeds to a local Bethlehem hospital.
Banksy has not been shy about his Pro-Palestine views, though critics on both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide have taken issue with his handling of the subject matter. Palestinians have called the artist out for normalizing the region’s conflict, while Israelis have denounced his work as propaganda.
In 2018, a London-based Israeli art collector accused Banksy of anti-Semitism after he distributed a satirical poster of children swinging from a war-torn watchtower as if it were an amusement-park ride.