BETHLEHEM - British street artist Banksy held an “apologetic street party” outside his Walled Off Hotel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Wednesday morning to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
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Banksy’s honorary guests were children from the nearby Palestinian refugee camps of Aida and Dahishe, who sported British military helmets and were seated at a long table just beneath the separation barrier. The table decorations consisted of burned-down British flags and a large British-themed cake.
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The party kicked off with a drawing competition in which the children were asked to draw a painting by Banksy of a dove holding a burned-down olive branch.
A group of 70 British citizens attended the party after having marched from London to Bethlehem in a call on the British government to fulfill the second part of the Balfour Declaration – the promise to ensure the rights of non-Jewish minorities within the Jewish State.
The declaration, which was issued on November 2, 1917 and paved the way for a United Nations resolution 30 years later to establish a Jewish state, announced support for a "national home for the Jewish people" while safeguarding "the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."
Banksy’s message, which was read to the audience of locals, tourists and the children was centered around the ongoing impact of the declaration on the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The speech touched upon the fact that the declaration consisted of a mere 67 words and urged the children to do their homework so they, too, will be able to one day influence history in a similar manner.
“The conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides, it didn’t feel appropriate to ‘celebrate’ the British role in it,” Banksy said in a statement that was handed out to reporters attending the event.
The party peaked when a person dressed as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II unveiled Banksy’s latest work of art on the separation barrier: gold letters reading “Er sorry,” a reference to requests made to the British government to apologize for the declaration.
As well as being an apologetic expression, Er is a wordplay on the initials E.R., which stands for Elizabeth Regina, Latin for Queen Elizabeth. The initials E.R. appear under the British royal crest.
The event drew to a close after a group of local activists burst into the party and stuck a Palestinian flag on the British-themed cake, while chanting “free Palestine.”
Banksy is a long-time critic of the Israeli occupation and has in the past drawn works on the separation barrier in Bethlehem. After the 2014 Gaza war, the artist snuck into the Strip to make a "tourist video" showing squalid conditions there. A year later, Banksy's so-called bemusement park project, Dismaland, featured the works of Israeli and Palestinian artists side by side.
The artist's latest West Bank project is the Walled Off Hotel, a project described as hotel, protest and art in one, which, according to Banksy, has "the worst view in the world." The facility, which consists of nine rooms and one suite, is meant to bring tourists and jobs to Bethlehem and foster dialogue between young Israelis who would stay there and the Palestinian residents of the city.