BETHLEHEM, West Bank — The two tourists were from Berlin, so they knew something about walls. There they sat, one with tea, another with cappuccino, on tasteful patio chairs, across an alley from the ugly 26-foot symbol of all that separates Israelis from Palestinians.
This section of the West Bank separation barrier was built 15 years ago, as violence raged. It is now a quiet tourist destination in the city where Jesus Christ was born: a hotel, gallery, museum, bookstore and spray paint shop by the elusive British artist Banksy. It is part whimsy and spectacle (note the plastic greeter chimp), part serious (note the very real Israeli security cameras).
“Weird,” one of the Berlin tourists, Nadja Miller, 38, said. “It’s voyeuristic. At the same time it raises awareness that it exists and discussion about it.”
It has been just over a month since Banksy opened the Walled Off Hotel here — and unsurprisingly it is proving popular: Its nine rooms are booked through June, for rates from $30 a night to $965 for the “presidential suite.” Some 700 people visit a day, the owner says, 200 of them Palestinian. Many arrive on tour buses passing through checkpoints.