Monday 24 October 2016

'I don't have a home but I do have this precious gift from Banksy'

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

Symbol of life: Father-of-six, Mohamed al Shanbari (30) with his Banksy, which appeared on a wall of his destroyed home in February
Symbol of life: Father-of-six, Mohamed al Shanbari (30) with his Banksy, which appeared on a wall of his destroyed home in February

The kitten plays with a ball of metal symbolising the "right to live".

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Three foot taller than its owner, there is a sadness in her dark eyes that is contradicted by her pink bow. Gaza can be a place of contrasts. The beauty and the devastation. The fighters and the peacemakers. The hopeful and the hopeless.

But contemplate being a potential millionaire while your family live in a caravan and you're in a hut that most people wouldn't store turf in.

That is the story of Mohamed al Shanbari (30). The father-of-six ran for his life last year, leaving all his worldly possession at the mercy of the Israeli tanks that were thundering through the village of Beit Hanoun. "When I came back after the war, the house was totally destroyed," he told the Irish Independent.

The only thing left standing was a small chunk of the gable wall, about 9ft tall.

Fast-forward four months to last February and another unimportant morning when a stranger from the outside arrives armed with stencils.

"He didn't tell me anything about who he was. I wasn't interested in asking him who he was. I thought he was just some foreign artist coming to do a mural," Mr al Shanbari explains.

Days later, Banksy - the elusive street artist whose work can sell for millions - posted a satirical travel video on YouTube where he tunnels "well away from the tourist track" into Gaza.

In that moment, Mr al Shanbair was homeless, jobless, penniless and minted.

As the first anniversary of last summer's war approaches, he is still no closer to reconstructing his home but he has built a protective fence for his Banksy.

"I had to protect it from children trying to paint over it and haters who might try destroy it because it is a such a precious gift," says Mr al Shanbair.

The market for art in Gaza is non-existent and there is no chance of being able to export the mural, meaning it may well be one of Banksy's most valuable pieces.

"I will try to protect it as long as I live here. I will keep the wall. I am proud because everybody knows the artist around the world."

Asked why he thinks Banksy chose a kitten, Mr al Shanbair replies: "This cat is a symbol of the right to live. I am a cat and I have the right to live so what about human beings."

A fitting interpretation given that 18 people were killed in a house just 25 metres away from the spot. Banksy himself has said he "wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website - but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens".

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