TEL AVIV, Israel — A long-lost painting by the British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced in a swank art gallery in downtown Tel Aviv, an hour’s drive and a world away from the concrete wall in the occupied West Bank where it was initially sprayed.
The relocation of the painting — which depicts a slingshot-toting rat and was likely intended to protest the Israel occupation — raises ethical questions about the removal of artwork from occupied territory and the display of such politically-charged pieces in radically different settings from where they were created.
The painting initially appeared near Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem and was one of several works created in secret around 2007. They employed Banksy’s trademark absurdist and dystopian imagery to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
Now it resides at the Urban Gallery in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district, surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.
“This is the story of David and Goliath,” said Koby Abergel, an Israeli art dealer who purchased the painting, without elaborating on the analogy. He said the gallery was simply displaying the work, leaving its interpretation to others.
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the authenticity of the piece, but Abergel said the cracks and scrapes in the concrete serve as “a fingerprint” that proves it is the same piece that appears on the artist’s website.
The 43-mile journey it made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy. The 900-pound concrete slab would have had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint — daily features of Palestinian life and targets of Banksy’s biting satire.
Abergel, who is a partner with the Tel Aviv gallery, said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian associate in Bethlehem. He declined to disclose the sum he paid or identify the seller, but insisted on the deal’s legality.
The graffiti artwork was spray-painted on a concrete block that was part of an abandoned Israeli army position in Bethlehem, next to a soaring concrete section of the separation barrier.
Some time later, the painting was itself subjected to…