Maps of the West Bank in Jordanian Postage Stamps, 1952–1985

 Contemporary Review of the Middle East

Postage stamps, as historian Kimberly Katz asserts, offer visual evidence of a country’s history and depict events that are deemed worthy of visual commemoration and “reflect ideologies, aspirations and values, attesting to political, social and cultural ideas and aesthetic tastes”. Although not regarded as a scholarly discipline to the historian, postage stamps, as Donald Reid observes, “are excellent primary sources for the symbolic messages which governments seek to convey to their citizens and the world”. Indeed, King Hussein introduced the hobby of stamp collecting to Jordanians when he assumed the throne in 1953, and Jordanian stamps have historical significance because they are considered a record of the kingdom’s political, cultural, economic, and social development. Thus, Jordanian stamp depictions of maps of the West Bank are an interesting case study to better understand the kingdom’s attitudes and policies toward the West Bank, which it ruled from 1948 until 1967. Jordan continued to assert sovereignty claims on the West Bank after Israel’s occupation of the land in 1967, after the 1974 Arab League decision to recognize the PLO as “the legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people” and until King Hussein’s disengagement decision in 1988 to sever all legal and administrative ties to the West Bank.1

Jordanian postage stamps normally depict the West Bank as Jordanian territory. Sometimes the West Bank is demarcated as an occupied or disputed territory with Israel, which conquered the land during the 1967 war. Distinguishing the West Bank from Jordan can also imply bitter or tense relations with the Palestinians after tragedies such as Black September (1970–1971) and the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tall (1971). Concurrently, Jordanian commemorative stamps of Palestine show the West Bank as part of Palestine by featuring the West Bank along with the rest of land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea as it existed during the British Mandate (1922–1948). Although other Arab countries also issued commemoratives of Palestine, Jordanian stamps contain a deeper significance because Jordan was the only Arab country to assert sovereignty claims over a part of Palestine (West Bank). Curiously, Jordanian stamps stopped showing the West Bank as part of Jordan in August 1985, three years before King Hussein’s disengagement decision and several years before Jordanian media and textbooks stopped showing the land as part of Jordan.2

This analysis attempts to chronicle Jordanian postage stamp portrayals of maps of the West Bank from their first inception in 1952 until their last inclusion in 1985. In doing so, this study aims to explain the kingdom’s dynamic and multi-dimensional attitude toward the West Bank, which varied depending on historical events as an integral part of the Hashemite Kingdom, to an Israeli-occupied land, to a territorial dispute with the PLO, while also occasionally acknowledging through commemoratives that the West Bank had been part of central Palestine and therefore was a Palestinian land. This analysis also explores why Jordanian postage stamps stopped depicting the West Bank on maps in 1985, three years before Jordan’s disengagement from the West Bank.

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