Gaza artist gobbles up valuable Banksy mural on war debris

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - A 33-year-old Gaza man says he has been duped into selling a valuable work by British graffiti artist Banksy for less than $200 to a local artist.

The popular street artist is believed to have sneaked into Gaza earlier this year, leaving behind four murals, including one drawn on a metal door that depicted the Greek goddess Niobe cowering against the rubble of a destroyed house. The painting, titled "Bomb Damage," was drawn on a door, the last remaining part of a two-story house belonging to the Dardouna family in northern Gaza.

Unaware of the work's value, Rabie Dardouna said Tuesday he was tricked into selling the door to an eager local artist for just 700 shekels, or about $175. Banksy's works have been valued as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Gaza artist gobbles up valuable Banksy mural on war debris
A metal door that depicted a Greek goddess, presumably painted by British street graffiti artist Banksy, was standing on the rubble of a destroyed building damaged in last summer's Israel-Hamas war, east of Jebaliya. It is seen standing next to the wall of a house in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Artworks by the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy are typically sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but in the Gaza Strip a local painter has succeeded in purchasing a Banksy original for less than $200. The popular street artist is believed to have sneaked into Gaza in February, leaving behind four murals including one drawn on a metal door that depicted a Greek goddess cowering against the rubble of a destroyed house. The painting of the goddess Niobe, titled "Bomb Damage," was drawn on the lone remaining part of a two-story house belonging to the Dardouna family in Jabaliya, northern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
An empty frame doorway is seen standing on the rubble of a destroyed building that was damaged in last summer's Israel-Hamas war, without a door painting, presumably painted by British street graffiti artist Banksy, east of Jebaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Artworks by the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy are typically sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but in the Gaza Strip a local painter has succeeded in purchasing a Banksy original for less than $200. The popular street artist is believed to have sneaked into Gaza in February, leaving behind four murals including one drawn on a metal door that depicted a Greek goddess cowering against the rubble of a destroyed house. The painting of the goddess Niobe, titled "Bomb Damage," was drawn on the lone remaining part of a two-story house belonging to the Dardouna family in Jabaliya, northern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
BEIT HANUN, GAZA, PALESTINE - 2015/02/27: Palestinian children in front of a mural of a kitten, said to have been painted by British street artist Banksy, on the remains of a house that was destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the summer of 2014, in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun. (Photo by Ahmed Hjazy/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BEIT HANOUN, GAZA - FEBRUARY 27: Graffitis are seen on a wall of a building, drawn by British artist Banksy in Beit Hanoun, Gaza on February 27, 2015. Famous British artist Banksy visited Gaza and drew graffiti on the walls of houses in Beit Hanoun destroyed in Israel's recent attacks on Gaza. (Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BETHLEHEM, PALESTINE - 2014/07/18: Two Israeli soldiers take cover behind a wall with the famous dove of peace by Banksy in the Bethlehem streets. After several days of calmness in the streets of Bethlehem, due to Palestinian Authority police and soldiers quelling protests, the Palestinian youth defiantly clashed with their own police forces as well as with Israeli soldiers. On-going anger and rage is directed at the incursion into the Gaza Strip. After several days of calmness in the streets of Bethlehem, due to Palestinian authority police and soldiers quelling protests, the Palestinian youth defiantly clashed with their own police forces as well as with the Israeli soldiers. The on-going anger and rage directed at the incursion into the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Anna Ferensowicz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK, PALESTINE - 2014/08/22: An Israeli soldier walks past a Banksy graffitti mural in Bethlehem. The Islamic Jihad faction organized protests in solidarity with Gaza, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. As ceasefire talks collapsed completely in Cairo earlier this week, and fighting renewed on Wednesday. Hamas launched a barrage of rockets towards Southern Israel, some reaching as far as Jerusalem and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, some 80 kilometers away from Gaza. Late Tuesday evening an Israeli missile struck the home of Hamas military commander Muhammad Deif, killing his wife and three-year-old daughter. Deif, according to Hamas reports was not assassinated. On Thursday, three more to military commanders, Muhammad Abu Shammala, Raed al-Attar and Muhammad Barhoum were also killed in airstrikes. In response, Hamas killed what they believed to be collaborators with Israel in Gaza. 18 suspected of having worked with Israeli army intelligence have been killed so far. Late Friday afternoon, a four-year-old Israeli child from Nihal Oz was killed by mortar fire from Gaza. To date, the death toll from the Gaza war stands at 2090 Palestinians and 67 Israelis. (Photo by Anna Ferensowicz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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"I did not know that it was this valuable. I heard it can be sold for millions," Dardouna said. "Now I want the door back."

Dardouna said he didn't even know who the British artist was and initially didn't pronounce Banksy's name correctly.

The Gaza artist who bought the door, Belal Khaled, said he did not mean to trick anyone. He said he just wanted to protect the painting and had no intention of profiting.

"I bought the painting to protect its artistic value and preserve it from damage," Khaled told The Associated Press. "Another reason is to display it in other places as well. I don't have any monetary interest in this."

He said he has been in touch with Banksy's representatives, hoping to get a clearance to showcase the mural in Gaza art exhibits.

The debate over the issue has heated up on Facebook, with Palestinian activists and journalists accusing the buyer of tricking the Dardounas while others have defended him for buying it legally. Khaled agreed to show reporters the mural on condition that its location not be revealed.

The Dardouna home was one of 18,000 destroyed in the 50-day war between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers 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 upward by balloons on Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

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