World News

Banksy artwork in Bethlehem takes aim at Balfour Declaration

Posted November 1, 2017 1:36 p.m. EDT

— It was a royal reveal of sorts. A red curtain concealed a small section of the large concrete wall Israel has built around much of the West Bank. A frail-looking Queen Elizabeth II -- not the real one -- greeted guests at a dystopian party outside the Walled Off Hotel, which is owned by reclusive British street artist Banksy.

In an alleyway between the boutique hotel and the wall, partygoers sat on a long table decorated with tattered and singed Union Jack flags while off-key music played through loudspeakers. Dozens of children from neighboring refugee camps were given English treats for the so-called "jubilee street party," held to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

On November 2, 1917, then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading member of the Jewish community in Britain, expressing support for a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The letter, later known as the Balfour Declaration, provided a boost to Jewish aspirations to create a state, which would eventually be realized in 1948.

"In an attempt to make amends for the trouble that letter caused, we would like to offer you all some cake," the emcee said addressing the gathering. "Now we hope you will join us in clapping as Her Royal Highness unveils a special message from us to you, the Palestinians."

The Queen impersonator, wearing a mask with the monarch's image, then pulled back the ceremonial red curtains, revealing a new artwork from Banksy: the words "Er ... Sorry" etched into the wall. The letters ER can also be read as Elizabeth Regina (Regina is the Latin word for queen).

The event might have looked like a celebration, but it came with a heavy dose of sarcasm. And the meaning of the Balfour Declaration was not lost on the Palestinian attendees.

"The declaration to me is illegal, and it's against Palestine," 13-year-old Ruwaida Al Azzah told CNN. "I don't believe in it, and I will fight it until the last day of my life, and Palestine will be free."

The director of the Walled Off Hotel told CNN the intended recipient of the artwork's message was the UK.

"The government of the United Kingdom should not celebrate the Balfour Declaration because [of the damage] this declaration caused to the Middle East. [It] should apologize to the Palestinians, and try to work it out, or help find a better solution, instead of supporting injustice and supporting the concept of colonization," Wissam Salsaa told CNN. "Balfour was a very generous man who offered land that didn't belong to him."

A statement by Banksy, who did not attend the event, was read aloud by the emcee. In part, it said that Balfour "wasn't very considerate about the people who were already living here. He started a century of confusion and conflict with just 126 words."

As for the British government, it has been commemorating the anniversary of the Declaration this week.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson posted a statement on the Foreign Office's website saying, "On the Centenary, I will say what I believe: The Balfour Declaration was indispensable to the creation of a great nation."