O, little hotel of Bethlehem

It’s Christmas. So a pilgrimage to Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem seemed a fitting way to get into the spirit. And given yesterday’s headline news, timely given Bethlehem is just 6 miles from Jerusalem.

As a Banksy fan, I knew the hotel would deliver a healthy dose of Banksy irony, and was not disappointed. The Rejection desk welcomed us, our room was entered through the bookcase, the view of the wall 3 meters from our bedroom window came complete with a brass telescope. A wry smile created at every turn. For the full interactive experience there was a walking tour of the ‘wall’, a chance to graffiti with a stencil made at Wall-Mart, and entertainment provided by a personless piano. Art heaven.

The Walled Off Hotel is indeed a ‘work of art’, but its politics are impossible to ignore. And as a resident in an art-work you are able to sleep ‘on’ what you’ve seen. You can wake up to it. And its message, though unspoken, seeps into you.

The recommended walking tour was not about Banksy, it was given by the people living behind the wall. A wall originally erected as a temporary peace measure but a wall that cuts through everything: the graveyard of Bethlehem’s families, the water supply, the playing fields, education (who’d send a child to a UN school whose gates are riddled with bullets fired from the wall’s watch tower 50m away?). And on the other side, beautiful houses set in greenery. My 4 year old played, as kids do, with what was there. Puddles, broken tiles, tear gas cartridges. The same things kids living there play with. Was she too young to be there? Yes. But then, weren’t they?

The street art told its own story. There was the art of hope, of what could be, of life like it is just a few miles away; and the art of politics, of governments and big ideals. The two inseparable. At the end of the tour, our guide asked only for one thing. Not money, not aid, but something much more important, to be treated as a human. Human to human. Not by race, religion or ideology. I’ve had the chance to meet people living on the West Bank, lovely, kind people whose lives are being slowly suffocated, act by act. First their land, then their water, their oil, their schools and it goes on. We think we understand politics, but we know nothing until we know the people, by which I mean we look into their eyes.

As part of my artistic experience l made a stencil to graffiti onto the wall. I sprayed Jolly Rebellion because I want to use our name for their name. To be a part of their story. Because their story is all our stories. This is where creativity can start to make a difference – mutually. The hotel is another Banksy success story, but it has also brought people to an area the world governments have deserted, it has given a platform for locals to have their voices heard, to be treated as equals again. That evening the songs sung in the bar came from counties in the region, all in conflict. All beautiful, all waiting for a chance to surface.

Can creativity lead a revolution? Creative ideas can tackle the problems governments can’t and heal the wounds diplomatic talking won’t and it can bring people together in a way nothing else dares. In fact, that creativity must lead the revolution in people’s names, now more than ever, because politics can’t.