After mysteriously disappearing from the occupied West Bank, a painting by the mysterious artist Banksy has turned up under equally mysterious circumstances in an art gallery in Israel. Palestinian officials say the graffiti artwork was stolen.
The street artwork – which depicts a rat holding a slingshot in an apparent satire of the Israeli occupation – was created around 2007 by the unfathomable British artist. It appeared on a concrete block used in an abandoned Israeli army position in the West Bank city of Bethlehem near Israel’s separation wall. Banksy has also painted several works on the massive concrete wall itself, which he previously said “Palestine will essentially be the largest open prison in the world”. But now the rat has made its way across the massive barrier and to the Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, some 70 miles from where it first appeared.
“This is theft of property belonging to the Palestinian people,” Jeries Qumsieh, a spokesman for the Palestinian tourism ministry, told the UK Time News. “These were paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem, for Palestine and for visitors to Bethlehem and Palestine. So transferring them, manipulating them and stealing them is definitely an illegal act.”
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli art dealer who bought the 900-pound concrete slab defaced with the artwork sees the situation somewhat differently. “We took it to Tel Aviv’s main street to show it to the public and to display its messages,” Abergel told the UKTN. “He should be happy with it,” Abergel said, referring to Banksy, who has not commented on the artwork’s relocation.
It is unclear exactly how the extremely heavy lump came from Palestine. To leave the West Bank, it would have had to pass through at least one military checkpoint. Abergel wouldn’t reveal how much he paid for the piece or name the person he bought it from, but he insisted the deal was completely legal. He added that Palestinian residents have cut the roughly 2 suqare yard portion from the block and kept it in private homes until earlier this year.
Careful restoration work was done to remove an acrylic message saying “RIP Banksy Rat” scribbled over the artwork. The giant slab was then encased in a steel frame so that it could be loaded onto a truck and taken through the checkpoint before arriving in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.
Abergel’s account of the artwork’s journey has not been verified. He claims that the Israeli military was not involved in its removal and that it was his unnamed Palestinian associates who arranged for the piece to be moved to Israel. He says he has no plans to sell the piece, which could be worth a fortune.
It is not the first time Banksy’s artwork has been removed from the West Bank. In 2008, his paintings “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search” were cut from the walls of a bus shelter and butcher’s shop in Bethlehem and eventually sold to galleries in the US and Britain.