JERUSALEM -- There’s “room at the inn” in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, but it’s at a hotel like no other.
With a play on words on the luxury Waldorf Astoria chain, this place is called the Walled Off Hotel, because it was built almost immediately next to Israel’s separation wall in the Palestinian-ruled city where Jesus Christ was born.
“The view from the rooms is very special,” says hotel manager Wissam Salsaa. “It’s very ugly, so I think it is a hotel with the worst view in the whole world.”
The Israeli government built the wall, or “security barrier” as the Israelis call it, more than a decade ago after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, with the aim of preventing terrorists from entering Israel. For the Palestinians, it’s a bleak symbol of Israeli occupation and what many consider apartheid.
On Monday, the Walled Off Hotel opened its doors to welcome the very first guests. It was designed by the renowned British graffiti artist Banksy, who said he wanted to give visitors an unconventional view of the Holy Land.
Without saying so explicitly, the artist seems to question the wisdom of the very creation of the State of Israel. The opening of his hotel comes 100 years after the Balfour Declaration, the British document that led to the establishment of the Jewish state.
“It’s exactly one hundred years since Britain took control of Palestine and started re-arranging the furniture -- with chaotic results,” Banksy said in a statement. “I don’t know why but it felt like a good time to reflect on what happens when the United Kingdom makes a huge political decision without fully comprehending the consequences.”
Banksy’s artwork, which decorates the rooms, takes a softer approach. One mural features an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian protester engaged in a pillow fight.
The hotel management says the venue actually carries a message of coexistence, and Israelis are welcome to come and get to know the other side.
That would be easier said than done, however, as Israel has banned its citizens from visiting Bethlehem and other Palestinian-controlled areas, purportedly due to fears for their safety.
Typically, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exposing the divides in the Holy Land is a lot simpler than bridging them.
Banksy, who has managed to gain international fame as a street artist while keeping his identity a closely-guarded secret, previously used his work to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of immigrants and refugees languishing at a makeshift camp in Calais, France, known as “the jungle.”
He opened a mock theme park in England -- the aspirational destination for many of those at the jungle, and called it “Dismaland.”
Filed by CBS Radio News correspondent Robert Berger in Jerusalem.