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Banksy's motto

Sep 02,2020 - Last updated at Sep 02,2020

The British graffiti artist Banksy has embarked on a new venture. He has financed a boat to rescue migrants setting off in crowded craft from North Africa to reach Europe. According to the mission's website, the vessel is a fast-moving "former French customs boat. Customised to perform search and rescue”. It has been deployed to fill in for the coast guards of European coastal states which have been ordered not to reply to distress signals from migrants at sea”.

The Louise Michel, named for a French feminist and sailing under a German flag, is 30 metres long and painted bright pink and white by Banksy himself who is financing its voyages with the sale of his paintings. On her side, he portrayed a girl in a life jacket holding a heart-shaped buoy.

The website states: "She is capitained and crewed by a team of rescue professionals drawn from across Europe." Their mission is to "uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice. We answer the SOS call of all those in distress, not just to save their souls — but our own". The ship's crew is "covid aware" and takes temperatures of rescued boarders and gives them facemasks.

The ship set sail on August 18 from a Spanish port and began its career by rescuing 89 migrants, including 14 women and four children whose floundering rubber dinghy was spotted by an aircraft monitoring the Mediterranean between Libya and Malta/Italy. The ship also provided life jackets and safeguarded another 130 people in an unsafe boat. The Italian coast guard evacuated 49 “guests” from the overloaded Louise Michel and the rest were transferred to Sea Watch4, a larger rescue ship. It now has 353 migrants on board and is currently cruising off the coast of Italy in search of a port where they can disembark. The UN refugee agency has urged  European countries with Mediterranean ports to take in the migrants.

So far, this year 500 migrants have died in the sea and 19,500 have survived the perilous journey to reach either Malta or Italy.

Banksy is a mysterious Bristol-born British street artist who made his name as a political activist in the 1990s. His identify is disputed and he guards his anonymity because graffiti is illegal. He is generally believed to be Robin Gunningham who adopted the name Robin Banks, which morphed into "Banksy." He started out with free hand street art but adopted stencilling because it took less time to complete a work and escape arrest. His messages are anti-war, anti-capitalist and pro-victim.

He made an international and especially controversial name for himself when he began stencilling graffiti in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

In August 2005, he visited the West Bank where he spray-painted nine images on Israel's apartheid wall. The first of his nine iconic images was of two small children with a bucket and spades sitting next to a crack in the wall revealing a sandy beach. In 2007, he returned to Bethlehem in 2007 with other artists who covered the wall with paintings with the aim of making it less intimidating to Palestinians who are imprisoned by it.

Across from the graffiti-covered wall, Banksy and Palestinian entrepreneur Wisam Salsaa established the Walled Off Hotel in a hemmed in villa. Guests stay in rooms decorated by different artists and take tea in the piano bar furnished in the style of 1917 when Britain's Lord Balfour issued his infamous declaration pledging to facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A mannequin of Balfour sitting at a desk and signing he declaration ushers visitors to a small museum displaying artefacts depicting the history of the Palestinian struggle.

In February 2015, Banksy surreptitiously entered Gaza through a tunnel from Egypt's Sinai. His visit followed Israel's 2014 blitz on the coastal strip that levelled 18,000 homes, mosques, businesses and infrastructure and killed at least 2,200 Palestinians.

One of his images is of a three-meter tall kitten on a broken wall, a ball of rusting wire at its paw, another is of the weeping Greek goddess Niobe on an iron door of another wrecked home, the third is of children tethered to and swinging from an Israeli watch tower.

He also filmed a two-minute on-line documentary focusing on the appalling conditions the nearly 2 million Palestinians endure in Gaza. The film starts off with a view from an airplane as if he was about to embark on a holiday. The text says, "Make this the year you discover a new destination." He points out that the only way to enter Gaza, which is hemmed in by neighbours, is through tunnels. Alas, the tunnels, Gaza’s only free outlet to the world, have been destroyed by Israel and Egypt, which accused Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, of smuggling arms through them.

Another text proclaims, "Development opportunities are everywhere" and there is "plenty of scope for refurbishment" while showing the ruins of buildings bombed and shelled by Israel.  The film ends with the words, painted on a wall with a chicken scurrying across debris on the ground, "If we wash our hands of the conflict betwen the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful, we don't remain neutral."

This is Banksy's motto. Rescuing migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean is the same as trying to rescue Palestinians sinking in the rough seas of the Israeli occupation.

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