A piece of art featuring a rat sits in a frame on the floor in a room with art on the walls.

Banksy painting found in Tel Aviv, 70 kilometers from its original location in West Bank

A long-lost painting by British graffiti artist Banksy has resurfaced in an 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 Israel’s occupation of the area, raises ethical questions about the removal of artwork from occupied territory.

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.

Banksy’s trademark absurdist and dystopian imagery was used to protest Israel’s decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians want for a future state.

It now resides at the Urban Gallery in the heart of Tel Aviv’s financial district, surrounded by glass and steel skyscrapers.

Israeli art dealer Koby Abergel, who bought the painting, said the gallery was simply displaying the work and leaving its interpretation to others.

“We brought it to the main street of Tel Aviv to be shown to the audience and to show his messages,” he said.

Mr Abergel said the cracks and scrapes in the concrete served as “a fingerprint” that proved it was the same piece that appeared on the artist’s website.

He said he bought the concrete slab from a Palestinian associate in Bethlehem, but declined to disclose how much he paid for it.

The 70-kilometre journey it made from the West Bank to Tel Aviv is shrouded in secrecy.

The concrete slab, which weighs about 400 kilograms, would have had to pass through Israel’s serpentine barrier and at least one military checkpoint.

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.

Sometime later, the painting was itself subjected to graffiti by someone who obscured the painting and scrawled “RIP Bansky Rat” on the block.

Mr Abergel said Palestinian residents cut out the painting and kept it in private residences until earlier this year.

Banksy’s work depicts a slingshot-toting rat and was likely intended to protest Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.(AP Photo: Oded Balilty)

He said relocating the work involved delicate negotiations with his Palestinian associate and careful restoration to remove the acrylic paint sprayed over Banksy’s work.

The massive block was then enclosed in a steel frame so it could be lifted onto a flatbed truck and rolled through a checkpoint, until it arrived in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night.

It was not possible to independently confirm his account of its journey.

Israel controls all access to the West Bank, and Palestinians require Israeli permits to travel in or out and to import and export goods.

Even when traveling within the West Bank, they can be stopped and searched by Israeli soldiers at any time.

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