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TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — A long-lost painting by British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced in a swanky art gallery in downtown Tel Aviv, a distance from the occupied West Bank where it sits. Concrete walls are an hour’s drive away. Spray initially.

The relocation of the painting – which depicts a rat with a slingshot, possibly in protest of the Israeli occupation – raises ethical questions about the removal of artworks from the occupied territories and the display of them in a completely different setting Politically charged work. was created.

This painting originally appeared near the separation wall in Israel In the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, one of several works created in secret around 2007. They used Banksy’s signature absurd and dystopian image to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories where Palestinians want to build their future state.

Now it’s in the City Gallery in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district, surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.

“This is the story of David and Goliath,” said Koby Abergel, the Israeli art dealer who bought the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery is just showing the work and leaving its interpretation to others.

The Associated Press could not independently confirm the authenticity of the work, but Aberger said cracks and scratches on the concrete could serve as “fingerprints” that it was the same work that appeared on the artist’s website.

Its 70-kilometer (43-mile) journey from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is kept under wraps. The 900-pound slab of concrete must pass through Israel’s serpentine barriers and at least one military checkpoint—a daily life for Palestinians and a target for Banksy’s snarky sarcasm.

Abergel, a partner at the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian colleague in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose the amount he paid or identify the seller, but insisted the deal was legal.

The graffiti was spray-painted onto a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a towering concrete section of the wall.

Some time later, the painting itself was graffitied by someone, obscuring the painting and scrawled “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block. Abergel said Palestinian residents cut the painting and kept it in private homes until earlier this year.

He said the relocation involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian colleagues and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed on Banksy’s work. The massive block was then enclosed in a steel frame so it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and rolled through a checkpoint until it reached Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

His description of his journey could not be independently verified.

The piece now stands on a richly decorated tiled floor, surrounded by other contemporary art. Gallery owner Baruch Kashkash said the block, about 2 square meters (-yd), was so heavy that it had to be moved in with a crane and could barely be removed from the door.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank, and Palestinians need Israeli permits to import and export goods. Even while traveling in the West Bank, they can be stopped and searched by Israeli soldiers at any time.

Israeli citizens, including Jewish settlers, have free access to 60 percent of the West Bank, which is under complete Israeli control. Israel has barred its citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-administered areas for security reasons, but the ban has been barely enforced.

Palestinians have spent decades seeking an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war. More than a decade ago, the peace process came to a standstill.

Abergel said the relocation of the artwork was not coordinated with the Israeli military, and his Palestinian accomplice, who declined to be named, was responsible for transporting it into Israel and through military checkpoints. He said he has no plans to sell the piece.

Under international treaties on cultural property signed by Israel, the occupying power must prevent the removal of cultural property from the occupied territories. It is unclear how the 1954 Hague Convention would apply in this situation.

“This is a theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” said Jeris Qomsi, a spokesman for the Palestinian tourism ministry. “These are paintings by an international artist for Bethlehem, Palestine, and tourists in Bethlehem and Palestine. Therefore, it is absolutely illegal to divert, manipulate and steal them.”

The Israeli military and COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry agency responsible for coordinating civil affairs with Palestinians, said they knew nothing about the artwork or its relocation.

Banksy has created a number of artworks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years, including one depicting a girl searching the body of an Israeli soldier, another a pigeon in a bulletproof jacket, and a Masked protesters threw a bouquet of flowers.He also designed the “Walled Hotel” guesthouse In Bethlehem, it was filled with his art.

A spokesman for Banks did not respond to a request for comment.

This isn’t the first time the work of street artists has been removed from the West Bank. In 2008, two other paintings – “The Wet Dog” and “Parking Search” – were removed from the walls of a bus shelter and butcher shop in Bethlehem. They were eventually bought by galleries in the US and UK, where they were exhibited in 2011.

Viewers can draw their own conclusions about the artwork and its impact, Abergel said.

“We took it to the main streets of Tel Aviv to show and present his message to the audience,” Abergel said. “He should be happy about it.”

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Scharf reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Areej Hazboun in Jerusalem contributed to this report.



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