On Wednesday, Banksy organized an “apologetic” tea party for Palestinians outside his West Bank hotel to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, a statement of British government support for a Jewish home in Palestine. The festivities invited dozens of children from nearby refugee camps to enjoy a cake decorated with the Union Jack and featured an actor dressed as Queen Elizabeth II, but were suddenly interrupted by Palestine protestors who took offense at the event’s execution.
“We came because we didn’t like the use of the British flags or the way they were using Palestinian children,” activist Munther Amira told the Guardian. Amira, a refugee from the Aida camp, had pierced the cake with a Palestinian flag, drawing cheers from the crowd. The camp lies steps away from Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel; organizers of the party had invited children from Aida as well as from the Dahishe camp, who all wore plastic military helmets painted with the British flag as they sat at a long table around which the activities unfolded.
The boisterous party was a mock response to celebrations in London commemorating the anniversary, most notably tonight’s formal dinner between British officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinians have demanded that the British government apologize for the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for Israel’s establishment 30 years after its writing by then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour; the UK refuses to acknowledge any role in injustice towards the Palestinian people. In April, the British government issued a statement making clear that it does not intend to apologize and is “proud of our role in creating the State of Israel.”
The centerpiece of Banky’s party was a satirical apology, chiseled into the concrete separation wall: “Er … sorry.” It was unveiled by the fake Queen, who stood in front of red velvet curtains and gave her audience regal waves. According to Reuters, Banksy had commissioned a professional stone carver who has worked on Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey to create the work.
“This conflict has brought so much suffering to people on all sides — it didn’t feel appropriate to celebrate the British role,” read a statement by Banksy, which was said aloud at the party. “The British didn’t handle things well here. When you organize a wedding, it’s best to make sure the bride isn’t already married.”
The relatively new Walled Off Hotel, which stands near Israeli Checkpoint 30, has not been entirely embraced by Palestinians, although many support it for drawing international awareness to their everyday conditions under Israeli occupation. When MTL Collective visited the building a few days before its opening last March, its members spoke with local Palestinians who expressed concern that the hotel would normalize the Palestinian struggle. According to the Guardian, others still worry that the building, which is filled with art, spotlights a well-known artist rather than amplifying their voices. A FAQ page on the hotel’s website emphasizes that it operates as an independent local business open to both Palestinians and Israelis, with any profits going towards “local projects.”