The Walled Off Hotel

Mosaic of Peace Reflection

by Rebecca Segers

The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, named tongue in cheek after the Waldorf Hotel in New York City, is a hotel literally across the street from the “temporary separation barrier” erected by the Israeli government, with construction beginning in 2002 and continuing to expand today. At the spot across from the Walled Off Hotel, it is 12 meters or almost 40 feet high. Artists have “decorated” the wall with protest graffiti, some of it funny, some ironic, some poignant, all beautiful in its own way.

This artistic sensibility was picked up by Sami Musa, Dominique Petrin, and Banksy who conspired to put together a hotel that is a piece of art itself. There are nine guestrooms all designed and painted by the three, as well as a piano bar, and restaurant filled with artwork that is compelling, comedic, and concordant with its commitment to sharing the Palestinian story.

We ate dinner there on Monday, November 14, arriving at 7:00pm to a welcome filled with warmth, hospitality, and humor. As we entered the front door, we were greeted by a stuffed monkey costumed as a bellhop. Upon crossing the threshold, the front desk was a feast for the senses. We were assailed by artwork showing Palestinian life with a combination of irreverence and realism. There were security cameras and weapons and royal British family teacups and another monkey – this one plastic – and slingshots and clocks with times from different places adorned with running rats and the “Scar” of Bethlehem, a three dimensional depiction of the holy family with a rupture in the wall above them that appeared to be made by a weapon of some sort, backlit with voluminous light pouring through. Everywhere we looked there was something to see. Something beautiful and challenging that pointed to the conflict in this region while also allowing for conversation and questions.

We were guided into the dining room and told by Sami, one of the owner/managers of the hotel, that we would have some time before dinner was served to look around, including time to peruse the hotel’s bookstore and a small museum that tells the history of Israel-Palestine since the British Mandate with video and artifacts in a revelatory and powerful way.

After wandering and wondering, we came back to an incredible meal: a green wheat soup, salads galore including a phenomenal quinoa tabbouleh, chicken with mushroom sauce, finishing with a baklava filled with custard. During the meal, we were treated with music by an incredible Palestinian duet playing traditional songs on the oud, a forebear to the guitar with an oval base like a lute, and the tabla, goblet-shaped drums. It was amazing – and at the end, Elias, the owner of Grace Tours and cousin to the singer, regaled us with his vibrant rendition of the final folksong.

It was an evening to remember. One that shared and showed pathos and joy living side by side, the resilience of these people we have come to know just a tiny bit, evident in every single moment.

In the midst of it, I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 4:10-13 as if he is writing as the Palestinians calling to us, siblings in Christ in America: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are sensible people in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are honored, but we are dishonored. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are naked and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” (NRSV)

I am not sure how we, the strong and the honored, are to make a difference for this amazing, joyous, resilient, hurting people, but I do believe we are called to be prophets for peace and justice. I pray that we not only figure that out, but are able to take meaningful and restorative action alongside them so that the art, the food, the music, the story, the people, might live.


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