Approaching the checkpoint heading into Bethlehem, this foreboding sign reveals itself. Of course for Palestinians trying to navigate their way around Israel the options run the gamut from annoying to impossible. Many people have to endure crushing daily routines of waking at 3:00 am to cross the border to work jobs to feed their families.
Once at the border they are herded like cattle into metallic, cramped paddocks. Just putting up with shitty, dead-end jobs back in the States can send people over the edge shooting up their workplaces.
Given the disrespect and injustices the Palestinians are faced with at every juncture of their lives, I can only say that they have mostly shown great restraint and retain a surprisingly good nature in spite of it all. What follows will hopefully enlighten, and inform upon a subject that has likely been obscured from view for most of our lives.
I believe that as long as this injustice persists, it will prove almost impossible for Israelis to fully enjoy their newfound homeland. I say this not because of potential Palestinian recriminations, but merely the result of their own consciences or possible karmic retribution.
How can the Jewish people, who have been slaughtered and abused, base their freedom and comfort on the detriment and suffering of another equally vulnerable population? Surely their own moral compass will subconsciously sabotage any long term happiness that is derived from acts that contradict their religion, as well as the basic tenets of human decency.
THIS ROAD LEADS TO AREA “A” – UNDER THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY THE ENTRANCE FOR ISRAELI CITIZENS IS FORBIDDEN AND DANGEROUS TO YOUR LIVES AND IS AGAINST ISRAELI LAW.
The irony here is that if more Israelis were exposed to the plight of these people, things might actually change. Unfortunately, these apartheid walls serve to insulate them from the truth and sweep under the rug the injustice that their government perpetrates upon the Palestinians.
A nicely executed piece of a Palestinian girl.
BANKSY – This is an iconic Banksy work that has been around for a decade. Recreated in many souvenir shops, this piece has found its way into many households worldwide given Banksy’s generosity of spirit. People all over Bethlehem are selling many types of reproductions of his works without fear of being sued over copyright issues. He is happy for them to improve their lives through his artwork. The other good news is that the products and the images are of high quality.
BANKSY – Dove with Olive Branch and Bullet Proof Vest
TRUMP 666 – NO BALLS? #BUILD WALLS
THE SEPARATION WALL – TWICE THE HEIGHT OF THE FORMER BERLIN WALL
TRUMPTY-DUMPTY LOVES WALLS
BANKSY’S LAST PIECE IN BETHLEHEM
DID YOU LEARN NOTHING FROM THE WARSAW GHETTO?
DARTH VADAR DWARFED BY THIS EVIL WALL
Such sweet kids living in a refugee camp near Bethlehem City.
CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY – The holiest place in Christendom.
LINING UP TO VISIT THE BIRTHPLACE OF JESUS
THE ENTRANCE INTO THE HOLIEST OF HOLIES
BENDING DOWN AT THE SPOT WHERE CHRIST WAS BORN
THIS STAR MARKS THE SPOT WHERE JESUS CHRIST WAS SUPPOSEDLY BORN
THIS IS THE AREA WHERE THE CRADLE WAS ALLEGEDLY PLACED
Beneath this wooden floor is the original mosaic floor. Here you see a Jerusalem cross in the foreground. The raised floor was added so the faithful would not walk on the crosses below.
Low door to force people to bow as they enter the church.
FAMOUS PALESTINIAN UPSIDE DOWN DISH
A VERY TASTY AUTHENTIC MEAL OF CHICKEN AND RICE
A NIGHT AT THE WALLED OFF
by John Hollister
There’s a special place in the Palestinian zone of Bethlehem that’s a conceptual artwork of an anonymous, British street artist named Banksy. The Walled Off Hotel is its name which is a play on words meant to imply the elegance of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. However, instead of facing Park Avenue, it claims the worst view on Earth that of the graffiti-laden, separation-wall courtesy of the Israeli government. This hideous divider essentially turns the Palestinians into prisoners in their own land.
Upon arrival, you’re greeted by a chimpanzee bellman grasping a valise with clothes spilling onto the sidewalk. This comical sculpture is an artwork in the same humorous spirit that comprises the whole property. A real doorman then guides you into a lobby that bears an unmistakable resemblance to a formal English gentleman’s club filled with priceless Banksy artworks. There’s a baby grand piano that plays live performances remotely from all over the world as you enjoy high tea or cocktails. The Walled Off is a work of art for those who wish to experience more than just a good nights sleep.
There’s a museum dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as an art gallery featuring works by Palestinian artists. A Wall-Mart is stocked with everything you’ll need to spray paint your own creation upon the wall. After being greeted by, Amanda, a dark-eyed beauty in a period jacket, I was given my room key and shown to a bookcase. She then directed me to wave the wall-section fob over the breasts of a small statue, unlocking the bookcase to gain access to the upper floor. You feel as if you’re entering a latter-day speakeasy. The deluxe guest rooms are offered at around $250 per night, but there is a military-style bunkhouse that accommodates six and is extremely comfortable at $60 per bed. The rooms all feature Banksy’s artworks. Every employee is Palestinian, and it became clear that each of them was a de facto ambassador for their country. The plight of their people is beautifully expressed in the on-site museum and on a walking tour that is easily arranged at the front desk for a small fee.
My tour guide, Marwan, led me on a journey of discovery that filled me with laughter, shock, and dismay. It began rather innocently walking the wall and viewing the copious street art that adorns it. Some were politically tragic and others downright hilarious. One depicted a huge Donald Trump hugging and kissing a guard tower. Banksy’s newest work can be found high upon the only section of the wall through which you can see any daylight. There he had strategically placed two angels with a crowbar trying to pry it apart at the gap.
We followed a path around the guard tower past a large, metal, sliding gate. This is where soldiers have been known to charge out to quash demonstrations. Why bother I wondered, since the wall is double the height of the Berlin Wall? These people could in no way pose any real threat. Atop the wall next to the gate was an odd fixture. It turns out that it sprays toxic chemicals onto crowds to clear the space for an impending siege. The gate then rolls open, the troops exit, and deploy tear gas and rubber bullets which can be fatal if fired at close range.
As we strolled past, the ground was littered with spent cartridges and rubber bullets. Being an American, I was disturbed by the fact that the cartridges were emblazoned with “MADE IN USA.” It turns out Israel earns a lot of money testing and selling our crowd-control products. Turning a corner, there was a graveyard, framed by that monstrosity of a wall. Marwan’s departed family members were buried here. The area was strewn with empty cans, plastic bottles, and miscellaneous trash that had been tossed down from the guard tower. A discarded, urine-filled two-liter bottle caught my eye. Marwan said this particular insult to injury was a regular practice perpetrated by the Israelis.
Leaving the graveyard, we passed countless shops that were closed because the wall had prevented the flow of commerce, and arrived at an archway supporting a giant metal key. Marwan explained that it was a profound symbol for the Palestinian people who were driven from their homes by Jewish settlers. When this happened, they would take their house keys with them as a promise that they would one day return. It turns out the key atop the archway leading to the refugee camp is the world’s heaviest. After the residents applied to the Guinness Book of Records, they were turned down because it was deemed too political for the publication. These poor Palestinians can’t ever seem to catch a break! A gift shop nearby, owned by a former engineer, now finds himself making a living off of jewelry fashioned from spent tear-gas canisters.
Our last stop was the refugee camp, which is comprised of buildings with too many people living in cramped quarters featuring paper-thin walls. Muslim women being very modest can’t even comfortably have proper relations with their husbands under these conditions. The scene ironically harkens back to the days of the Warsaw Ghetto where the Jews were once sequestered and isolated by their oppressors.
Emotionally spent upon returning to the hotel, I paid Wall-Mart a visit to make my mark on the oppressive barrier. The result was simply the word “Imagine.” My experiences here will not be forgotten, and the people of the Walled Off can rest assured that their message will be carried far beyond these walls.
THE WALLED OFF HOTEL – BANKSY’S CONCEPTUAL ART MASTERPIECE
Made To Resemble A British Gentlemen’s Club.
AMANDA BALLOUT – A very nice young lady who is a fine Palestinian ambassador, and a perfect welcome to the Walled Off Hotel. She will go far in the hospitality industry or any vocation she chooses.
THE FAMED WALLED-OFF PIANO LOUNGE – Sit and hear remote piano concerts from the likes of Tom Waits and other notables. The bookshelf on the left is the entrance to the guest rooms. There is a small, white nude statue on the shelf to right. You wave your wall section key fob in front of the boobies, and they light up indicating that the bookshelf door is unlocked.
VARIOUS INSECURITY CAMERAS
GENTLEMEN’S CLUB CHIC
A MIXED-MEDIA BANKSY RECREATION OF HIS OWN WORK
NEO-CLASSICAL TEAR GAS
AND THE BANKSY’S KEEP COMING
“We travel not to escape life – but for life not to escape us”
PRONE TO DRONES
MY PRIZED BOTTOM BUNK
MY GOODNESS MY GUINNESS – BATHROOM TOUCHES
TASTEFUL FRAMED ART ENSEMBLE
ANOTHER BANKSY CLASSIC – THE BUTTONS AND INDICATOR LIGHTS WERE GOING HAYWIRE – SO PLAYFUL
MARWAN – My personal tour guide who shared his personal experiences as well as the crimes against the Palestinian people. His impassioned plea to the world at large was not lost upon me.
What you see on the left is a gate in the wall. Needless to say, the population can pose little threat to this monolithic wall. When they finally are fed up with this apartheid oppression, they have been known to demonstrate. The Israeli soldiers take this opportunity to test out all the neat stuff the government buys from War-Mart in the USA. The giant gate slides open, tear gas canisters soar, rubber bullets fly, and if they’re feeling particularly frisky, they let loose some live rounds.
Check out the appendage above Marwan on the wall.
This benign-looking, robotic arm dispenses all manner of chemicals, sewage, and other unpleasantries to disperse the crowd before unleashing their inhospitable armaments upon the people, women, and children included.
PALESTINIAN CEMETERY PARTIALLY ENCIRCLED BY THE WALL
Many of Marwan’s relatives are buried here. The Israeli soldiers show their respects by tossing their empty food containers and trash into the sacred space.
As a special dispensation, the soldiers have filled this two-liter bottle with their own urine and flung it down amongst the headstones below. This was removed by a tourist earlier in the week, but it is a favorite practice nonetheless.
A GUARD TOWER PRESIDES OVER THE PALESTINIAN DEAD
WORLD’S HEAVIEST KEY – The significance of this monument is that many Palestinians have been kicked out of their houses and off of their land. They keep the key as a symbol that one day they will return. The Palestinians in this neighborhood submitted their giant key to the Guinness Book of World Records only to be turned down on the grounds that it was too political. God dammit, these people cannot catch a break. C’mon Guinness, throw these people a frickin’ bone!
Near the giant key, this kid was minding his business and was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper.
ISRAELI MASSACRE 2014 – This is a list of children that were killed in the massacre. They ran out of space. Around 600 kids lost their lives.
These are all of the confiscated towns. Gee, I wonder why these people are pissed off?
MURAL – This piece was commissioned by a Mexican group to honor Marwan and the Palestinians.
MUNITIONS – Assorted tear gas launchers, tear gas grenades, and rubber bullets.
MADE IN THE USA – Our “War for Profit Industry” is complicit in the victimization of the Palestinians. This is something I am really appalled about. Even rubber bullets kill when fired at a close range which is often the case in this neighborhood.
This used to be a street that had thriving businesses alongside, but those days are over since the wall cut off its lifeblood, and prevented the flow of commerce.
WALL-MART – This is where wall art begins.
WANDA & YAZAM – Here they are having a smoke outside of Wall-Mart after having just finished cutting out the stencil I designed.
IMAGINE – I thought the title of John Lennon’s greatest solo song and peace anthem would send the right message as well as avoid taking up too much space or covering other viable artworks.
LUSH – This Australian street artist is fond of Rick & Morty.
LUSH – LOOK MORTY, I TURNED MYSELF INTO AN ILLEGAL BORDER WALL!
MAKE HUMMUS NOT WALLS
My bunkhouse roommate created this.
Here’s another bunkhouse roommate with his creation. He is French and we love all the same cheeses.
Muhammad Ali on left.
BANKSY – Girl Frisking Soldier – This famous work is hidden in a souvenir shop that is rarely open. I took this shot through a painted glass door which had a little of the paint scratched off. Evidently, the owner of the shop is a bit of a prick which is a shame since he is holding this iconic Banksy hostage.
MUSEUM IN THE WALLED OFF
MUSEUM SHOP – Loren Odeh & Hanan Araj – Two more fine examples of Palestinian hospitality, kindness, and decency. There are many insightful books about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict available for purchase. There are also a few special Banksy products as well. I purchased an “original” Banksy Wall Section keychain! Yes, you too can purchase affordable original Banksy artworks here. My Banksy set me back $65 which was a pittance considering that his work often sells for millions. I guess it’s his way of showing appreciation for aiding in his support of these oppressed people. The museum is small but substantive and very informative.
If you have the good fortune to spend a night at the Walled Off, I promise that it will be a deeply moving experience. Every dollar spent will be a boon to the community, as well as supporting the education of a vast array of international visitors. In all of my extensive travels the visit to the Wall Off is one of the most effecting and important during my lifetime.
INSTRUMENTS OF OPPRESSION
WAR FOR PROFIT – THIS SPEAKS FOR ITSELF
I CAN’T BELIEVE WE’RE STILL PROTESTING THIS SHIT!
AIN’T IT THE TRUTH
WALLED OFF ART GALLERY
PIECES AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE BY LOCAL ARTISTS
Quality artwork at good prices.
This is an upsetting ensemble. Do you recognize the Abu Ghraib torture silhouette on the top piece of currency?
Let’s end this on a positive note. The strange thing about my visit is that regardless of its painful aspects, I came away a feeling of solidarity with these people. I knew that I had participated in something of value and meaning. It is one of my many adventures that I will never forget, and that the people of the Walled-Off Hotel can be assured that their kindness will translate into their message being carried well beyond these walls.
CROSSING CHECKPOINT INTO PALESTINIAN CONTROLLED HEBRON
This man has had his shop here for fifty years. His father and his grandfather also worked here. Because of restrictions business has been adversely affected.
Add to that the problems with the settlements built above them and you have a perfect storm. The wire mesh you see is to prevent trash from littering the area in front of their shops. Unfortunately, it doesn’t protect against the urine or bleach that is occasionally poured on top of them.
The effects of division have not been good as you can see.
Knock off Nikes
One of the many gold shops.
Heading to the Ibrahimi Mosque.
This mosque is part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs which is shared with the Jews.
In this spot, 29 Palestinians were murdered by a US-born, Israeli, military physician on February 25, 1994. Armed with a Galil assault rifle, Baruch Goldstein managed to injure more than a hundred worshippers before he was overpowered and beaten to death.
For you, Star Wars fans, does this look familiar?
Hebron is yet another reminder of how intertwined this culture is, and how truly untenable maintaining these physical boundaries really is. It is damaging psychologically, financially, politically, and ultimately prevents any meaningful dialogue or progress on any kind of path to peace. What’s needed here is anybody’s guess.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today… Aha-ah…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world… You…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
A reassuring footnote comes on the heels of my visit to Israel. Natalie Portman, a notable actress and Harvard graduate, was denounced by the Israeli Government over her decision not to attend the Genesis Prize Foundation awards ceremony. She was due to collect the Genesis Prize as Israel wrapped up its 70th. Independence Day celebrations. Born in Israel, Portman’s actions are being deemed nothing short of “treason” and the actions of an elitist against her fellow countrymen.
After decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, it is clear that even well-known Israeli-American cultural figures, like Natalie Portman, are no longer willing to whitewash or turn a blind eye to Israeli crimes and apartheid policies.
Israel’s recent massacre of peaceful protesters by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza makes its condemnation of Portman seem nothing short of tone deaf at best. How can Israelis celebrate their Independence after surviving a Holocaust, while perpetrating crimes that smack of the very abuses they once suffered?