After mysteriously disappearing from the occupied West Bank, a painting by mystery artist Banksy has resurfaced in an Israeli art gallery under equally mysterious circumstances. Palestinian officials say graffiti art was stolen.
This street art piece shows a mouse holding a slingshot in an apparent satire on the Israeli occupation – created by the enigmatic British artist around 2007. It appeared on concrete blocks in an abandoned Israeli army position in the West Bank city of Bethlehem near Israel’s separation wall. Banksy also painted several works on the massive concrete wall, which he has previously said “effectively turned Palestine into the largest open prison in the world”. But now, the rat has found its way to the other side of the giant barrier, into Tel Aviv’s city gallery, some 43 miles from where it first appeared.
“This is a theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” Jeries Qumsieh, a spokesman for the Palestinian tourism ministry, told Reuters Associated Press“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.”
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli art dealer who purchased the 900-pound concrete slab painted with art sees the situation differently. “We took it to the main streets of Tel Aviv to show and present his message to the audience,” Abergel told The Associated Press. “He should be happy about it,” said Abergel, referring to Banksy, who did not comment on the relocation of the artwork.
Exactly how this extremely heavy lump came out of Palestine is unclear. It has to pass through at least one military checkpoint to leave the West Bank. Abergel wouldn’t reveal how much he paid for the piece or the name of the person from whom he bought it, but insisted the deal was perfectly legal. He added that Palestinian residents cut some 2 Sugar courtyard sections from the block and kept them in private homes until earlier this year.
Careful restoration work was done to remove the acrylic paint message “RIP Banksy Rat” scrawled on the artwork. The giant slab was then wrapped in a steel frame so it could be loaded into a truck and passed through a checkpoint before arriving in Tel Aviv late at night.
Abergel’s account of the artwork’s journey has yet to be confirmed. He claimed that the Israeli military was not involved in dismantling it and that his unnamed Palestinian accomplice arranged for the work to enter Israel. He said he had no plans to sell the piece, which could be worth a fortune.
This isn’t 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 shop in Bethlehem and eventually sold to galleries in the US and UK.