After mysteriously vanishing from the occupied West Bank, a painting by the secretive artist Banksy has resurfaced in an art gallery in Israel in equally mysterious circumstances. Palestinian officials say the graffiti artwork was stolen.
The street artwork—which shows a rat holding a slingshot in an apparent satire of the Israeli occupation—was created by the inscrutable British artist around 2007. It appeared on a concrete block used in an abandoned Israeli army position in the West Bank city of Bethlehem near Israel’s separation barrier. Banksy has also painted several works on the huge concrete wall itself, which he’s previously said “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison.” But now, the rat has found its way to the other side of the huge barrier and into the Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, some 43 miles from where it first appeared.
“This is theft of the property of the Palestinian people,” Jeries Qumsieh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian tourism ministry, told the Associated Press . “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 daubed with the artwork sees the situation somewhat differently. “We brought it to the main street of Tel Aviv to be shown to the audience and to show his messages,” Abergel told the AP. “He should be happy with it,” Abergel said, referring to Banksy, who has not commented on the artwork’s relocation.
Exactly how the extremely heavy lump made it out of Palestine is unclear. It would have had to go through at least one military checkpoint to get out of the West Bank. Abergel would not 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 cut the roughly 2 square yard section out of the block and kept it in private residences until earlier this year.
Careful restoration work was undertaken to remove an acrylic paint message reading “RIP Banksy Rat” which had been scrawled over the artwork. The giant slab was then encased in a steel frame so that it could be loaded onto a truck and brought through the checkpoint before arriving in Tel Aviv in the dead of 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 had arranged for the piece to move into Israel. He says he doesn’t have plans to sell the piece, which could be worth a fortune.
This isn’t the first time Banksy’s artworks have been removed from the West Bank. In 2008, his paintings “Wet Dog” and “Stop and Search” were cut out of the walls of a bus shelter and butcher shop in Bethlehem and eventually sold to galleries in the U.S. and Britain.