GAZA // A Palestinian man was lamenting his misfortune on Wednesday after selling his bombed-out door without realising the image painted on it was by Banksy.
Rabea Dardouna, a father of six from northern Gaza, said he sold the iron-and-brick doorway of his destroyed house to a local man who offered him 700 shekels (Dh643) for it.
He said he did not realise the image had been spray-painted by the British street artist and could be worth a small fortune.
Banksy pieces regularly sell for more than US$500,000 (Dh1.8 million). A mural painted on a shop in London in 2013 sold at a private auction for $1.1m.
Banksy, who is famed for his ironic murals in unexpected places, visited Gaza earlier this year and sprayed an image of a goddess holding her head in her hand on the door, one of a handful of paintings he did in Gaza.
“I had no idea what the value of the painting was or who this Banksy is,” a frustrated Mr Dardouna said. “If I knew I would never have sold the door so cheap.”
He said he felt swindled and had been trying to call the man who bought the door but had got no reply.
“I want to get it back first, and then I can look at offers,” he said, pointing out that his house had been destroyed in last year’s war and he needed money for rent and his family.
“Next time I’ll sell it as a Banksy painting, not as an old door.”
The local man who bought it, graffiti artist and journalist Belal Khaled, said he had no plans to give the door back and no plans to sell it “at present”.
“I bought the door to preserve the painting and protect it from being removed, spoiled or destroyed,” he said, adding that he had followed Banksy for a number of years and was inspired by his work.
“Since I started as a graffiti artist it has been my dream to own a piece of Banksy art.”
Khaled said he told Mr Dardouna the painting on his door was by Banksy but it did not seem to register. Asked if he was thinking of selling the painting, he replied:
“I am not thinking of selling it at the present time.
“I will consider offers to display it in international galleries to speak about the suffering of Gaza and the agonies of war.”
The debate over the issue has heated up on Facebook, with Palestinian activists and journalists accusing the buyer of tricking Mr Dardouna while others have defended him for buying it legally.
Mr Dardouna’s home was one of 18,000 destroyed in Israel’s 50-day war on Gaza last summer. Banksy is a critic of Israel and he has created works in Gaza and the West Bank meant to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians.
Other Banksy works spotted in Gaza after the mystery visit were a mural of a playful kitten and of children swinging from a military watchtower.
Banksy publicist Jo Brooks said at the time that the artist entered Gaza through a tunnel from Egypt, though such a route is extremely difficult and dangerous.
On a previous visit to the region he drew a painting of a girl pulled upwards by balloons on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.
Banksy, who is from Bristol in the west of England, has never revealed his true identity.
* Reuters and Associated Press