of the Middle East
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Maps of the West Bank in
Jordanian Postage Stamps,
This article examines Jordanian postage stamp depiction of the West Bank as
part of the Hashemite Kingdom from 1952 to 1985. The majority of maps of
the West Bank are featured as part of Jordan, both during Jordanian rule of the
West Bank (1948–1967) and after Israel conquered the land during the 1967
war. Sometimes the West Bank is delineated from Jordan to suggest a territorial
dispute with Israel, while other times, the West Bank is shown as part of Palestine.
The ambiguous representations of the West Bank as Jordanian territory, disputed
territory, and Palestinian territory reinforce Hashemite sovereignty claims to the
West Bank while also supporting Palestinian rights and acknowledging Jordanian
rule of the West Bank was conditional upon settlement of the Palestinian issue.
Finally, this analysis seeks to explain why stamps stopped showing the West Bank
as part of Jordan in 1985, three years before the kingdom formally severed all
legal and administrative ties to the land.
Jordan, West Bank, King Hussein, Palestine, Israel, PLO, Philately, stamps
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” (Katz, 1999, p. 14).
1 Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University, Washington,
Michael Sharnoff, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University,
Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC 20319-5066, USA.
2 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
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”
(Reid, 1984, pp. 223–249). 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.
Historical Context of Transjordan and the West Bank
The Allied Powers during World War I appointed Britain at the San Remo
conference in 1920 to serve as the mandatory power in Palestine. They pledged
support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine based on the 1917
Balfour Declaration which would consist of territory on both banks of the River
Jordan. The League of Nations recognized the British Mandate of Palestine in
July 1922. However, in 1921, the British rewarded Abdullah, son of Hussein bin
Ali, Emir of Mecca, who led the great Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire,
with a new Arab entity east of the Jordan River called the Emirate of Transjordan.
Transjordan gained semi-independence from the British on May 25, 1923, who
recognized Abdullah’s rule but kept foreign policy, military and economic issues
in British hands. Apart from the ruling Hashemite dynasty, Transjordan consisted
of Bedouin and non-Bedouin Muslim Arabs, settled Christian Arabs and small
numbers of Armenian Christians, Druze Arabs, Muslim Circassians, and Muslim
Chechens (Sinai & Pollack, 1977, pp. 23, 24, 26).
As a remote backwater in the Ottoman Empire lacking major cities and
infrastructure, postal services in Transjordan had been restricted. However, in
1920, residents on both banks of the Jordan River used postage stamps with the
inscription “EEF” for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which was also common
to other Middle Eastern territories under British rule. That same year, British civil
authorities issued the EEF stamps with overprints of the Arabic inscription Sharqi
Al-Urdunn (East of Jordan). Before the founding of Hashemite rule in Transjordan,
these stamps referred to land east of the Jordan River. Palestinian, Hijazi, and
Syrian stamps were also used in Transjordan with the same inscription.
Yaqoub Youssef al-Sukkar was Jordan’s first stamp artist. Born in the city of
Salt and raised Greek Orthodox Christian, Sukkar was the Secretary-General of the
Ministry of Post and Telegraph, which had been established in Salt in 1919. During
this time, the administration in Salt was part of the Feisali Kingdom ruled by
Abdullah’s brother Prince Feisal in Damascus from 1918 until his expulsion by
France in 1920. During the Feisal period, stamps were issued in the name of the
Arab Kingdom of Syria. In 1922, Sukkar designed Transjordan’s first stamp
bearing the name of Imarat Sharq al-Urdunn (the Emirate of Transjordan) to
commemorate the first anniversary of the establishment of Transjordan. From
1922 to 1925, Hijazi stamps used in Transjordan included the Arabic inscription
Hukumat Al Sharq Al ‘Arabi (Government of the Arab East), which referenced the
emirate’s namesake and implied the land or government is east of the Jordan River
(Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue, Part 19: Middle East, 1990, pp. 236–237).3
Transjordan issued new stamps around six to ten times annually, depending on
the frequency of national and international events. In 1927, the first set of
definitive postage stamps appeared in the Palestinian currency (Millime), featuring
the image of Emir Abdullah. Two years later, a postal employee named Baz Kawar
promoted the idea of featuring different views to attract foreign tourism to
Transjordan. Artists were requested to produce their best pictures of Abdullah and
his son, Prince Talal, as well as archaeological and natural monuments in Jordan,
and the tourism set was issued in 1933 (Baybars, 2020). There were no maps
portraying land west of the Jordan River during this time, but images of Abdullah
continued as a common theme throughout the next two decades in Transjordanian
Abdullah, like his brother Feisal, had grand territorial aspirations, which
included ruling over a Greater Syria kingdom. Leaving Arabia to settle in
4 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
Transjordan, “a no-man’s-land whose 300,000 peasants and semi-nomads were
ruled by local sheikhs who did as they pleased” (Sicker, 1989, p. 77) did not
initially seem appealing to Abdullah. In his memoirs, Abdullah reflects: “I say
frankly that we left Hejaz for the sake of Syria and Palestine and lost Hejaz to a
barbarous Arab people who set themselves with a will to destroying, plundering,
and committing desecration in its holy territory” (Abdullah, 1954, p. 33).
Abdullah’s territorial ambitions to establish a Greater Syria kingdom never
materialized, but the growing conflict west of the Jordan River between the Arabs
and Jews of Palestine would later provide an opportunity to gain prestige and
influence in the Arab world.
Through a treaty, on March 22, 1946, with the United Kingdom, the Emirate of
Transjordan declared its independence on 25 May. Under Abdullah’s leadership,
the Transjordanian Legislative Council met to establish the new country as a
representative and hereditary royal government. The name “Jordan” was first
introduced in Transjordan’s constitution issued on December 7, 1946, which
officially became “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” in April 1949 when the
kingdom consisted of the West Bank and the East Bank (Library of Congress –
Federal Research Division, 2006). However, postage stamps continued to describe
the country as “Transjordan” until 1949.
A nine-set stamp series celebrated Transjordan’s independence ranging in
denomination from 1 Palestine mil to 200 Palestine mils. This was the first series
of postage stamps to feature a map that only consisted of the territory east of the
Jordan River. At the bottom of the stamp, a hand carrying a torch is raised to
symbolize freedom from British rule. At the top, a dove is seen carrying an olive
branch representing peace and prosperity for the newly independent kingdom
By May 1947, Transjordanian postage stamps began displaying images, but
not yet maps, of important religious and historical sites on the West Bank and
Jerusalem. These images coincided with Abdullah’s support for the Arabs of
Palestine in their struggle against the Jews of Palestine during a period of
increasing violence, which culminated in the UN Partition plan and civil war in
Mandatory Palestine (1947–1948). Transjordan issued its first postal tax series in
1947 to help raise funds for the Arabs of Palestine, which contained the Ibrahimi
Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron.5 The series also included the Dome of
the Rock, a sacred shrine in Jerusalem, and al-Jazzar Mosque in Acre, also known
as the White Mosque, constructed in 1781 by the Ottoman governor Ahmad Pasha
el-Jazzar.6 During this time, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon also issued aid stamps for
the Arabs of Palestine, reflecting the general Arab anti-Zionist attitude and belief
that Palestine’s Jews sought to displace the Palestinian Arab population (Stanley
Gibbons Stamp Catalogue, Part 19: Middle East, 1990, pp. 140, 321, 453–455).
Transjordan’s depiction of these holy sites reflects the kingdom’s strong
emotional and spiritual attachment to the West Bank and Jerusalem even though
it did not yet exercise sovereignty over these territories. Hashemite attachment to
Jerusalem and the al-Haram al-Sharif dates back to at least 1924 when the Sharif
(later, King) Hussein bin Ali—Emir Abdullah’s father—donated funds to repair
the al-Aqsa Mosque. Moreover, King Hussein was buried in the al-Haram
al-Sharif in 1931. Therefore, Abdullah’s prior territorial ambitions articulated in
his vision to establish a Greater Syria kingdom and his more recent attitudes and
attention toward Palestine reveal indications that he would entertain options,
under the right circumstances, to expand his kingdom through the control of the
territory west of the Jordan River.
Jordanian Rule of the West Bank (1948–1967)
On May 15, 1948, one day after Israel declared independence from Britain, the
neighboring Arab states entered Palestine ostensibly in defense of the Palestinian
Arabs but also to occupy areas of Palestine for themselves. Transjordan invaded
areas that had been designated as part of the Arab state under the UN Partition
Plan and the corpus separatum of Jerusalem. Transjordan occupied land west of
the Jordan River in central Palestine and the eastern part of Jerusalem, which
includes the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, and al-Aqsa Mosque, the
third holiest site in Islam. The UN Partition Plan in 1947 had designated Jerusalem
as an international city under UN administration. The region in central Palestine,
which later became known as the West Bank, would comprise part of an
independent Arab state.
As a result of the 1948 war, the Kingdom of Transjordan was enlarged, and its
population nearly tripled. In addition, occupation of the West Bank added
approximately 450,000 Palestinian Arabs to the kingdom and another 450,000
Palestinian refugees in what became Israel fled across the East Bank (Mishal,
1978, p. 2). As a result, Transjordan’s population ballooned to over one million,
and the Palestinian Arabs became a majority, and the Transjordanian population
6 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
became the minority. After Transjordan conquered these territories, it used stamps
to aid the subjects of this region and raise funds for the government. These postal
tax stamps in support of the Arabs of Palestine were overprinted with the word
“PALESTINE” in Arabic and English (Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue, Part
19: Middle East, 1990, p. 242).7
To sanction the expansion of his kingdom and desired leadership role with the
Palestinians, Abdullah formally annexed these territories on April 24, 1950. The
House of Deputies and House of Notables, with the support of some West Bank
Arabs, adopted a resolution known as “the decision of the unity of the two banks”
(ECF, 1950). The resolution proclaimed complete unity between the West and
East Bank of the Jordan River into one state, Jordan, under the leadership of King
Abdullah bin al Hussain. Based on constitutional representative government and
equality of the rights and duties of all citizens, the resolution also emphasized the
protection of Arab rights in Palestine, “with all possible legal means and this unity
shall in no way be connected with the final settlement of Palestine’s just case
within the limits of national hopes, Arab cooperation and international justice”
(ECF, 1950). Only the United Kingdom and Pakistan officially recognized the
annexation (Kramer, 2020) and the Arab League acknowledged Jordanian
trusteeship of the West Bank until a final settlement of the Palestinian issue.
After the annexation of the West Bank in 1950, the 1947 postal tax stamps in
support of Palestine’s Arabs became superfluous. In 1951, a new law allocated
funds raised by the stamps for development and reconstruction. Stamps used in
the West Bank and contained “PALESTINE” overprints were replaced by
Jordanian stamps. The Jordanian dinar (fils) replaced the Palestine pound in 1949,
although the pound remained in use in the West Bank until 1950 (Stanley Gibbons
Stamp Catalogue, Part 19: Middle East, 1990, pp. 236, 244, 275).
In 1951, Abdullah was assassinated by a Palestinian while entering al-Aqsa
for the annexation of the West Bank and efforts to reach a peace agreement with
Israel. Talal, Abdullah’s son, was next in line to assume the throne. One of Talal’s
most significant achievements during his brief reign was the introduction of
Jordan’s constitution in 1952. Article 1 states, “The Hashemite Kingdom of
Jordan is an independent sovereign Arab State. It is indivisible and inalienable,
and no part of it may be ceded” (Constitute Project, 2019). This clause has never
been amended and is used by some Jordanians to challenge the constitutionality
of King Hussein’s disengagement decision by arguing that the West Bank legally
belongs to Jordan (Sharnoff, 2020). However, Talal’s reign was cut short due to
mental health issues, and he abdicated in August 1952. Hussein, Talal’s eldest
son, became the heir apparent, succeeded the throne in 1953 and ruled until his
death in 1999.
The first Jordanian postage stamp to include a map of the West Bank and
Jordan was issued on April 1, 1952, titled “Unification of Jordan and Arab
Palestine” (plate 1:2).8 This nine-set definitive series includes the inscription
“Commemorating the Unity of Jordan” in Arabic and English. Two significant
religious and historical sites appear on both banks of the River: The Dome of the
Rock in Jerusalem and al-Khazneh, a spectacular temple in Petra built by the
Nabateans in the third century. The Hashemite regime sought to bolster its
religious authority to protect Islamic holy sites and represent the interests of Arabs
and Muslims on the West Bank and East Bank as a single entity under the
leadership of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Kimberly Katz summarizes how
the stamps aim to portray the unity of the two banks organically as if “these two
areas have always belonged together politically, rather than being forced together
or ‘unified’ for political expediency in a particular historical moment” (Katz,
1999, pp. 20–21).
Palestinian attitudes toward Jordanian stamp depictions of the West Bank as
part of the kingdom should be understood in the political context during Jordanian
rule of the West Bank. The press did not refer to the West Bank as “the occupied
part of the homeland” or “the stolen Palestine” which implies that the West Bank
was not perceived as occupied Palestinian land (Abu-Khalil, 2018). Generally
speaking, Palestinians on both banks of the river recognized that the West Bank
was part of central Palestine, which Jordan had later renamed as the “West Bank.”
For instance, in 1950, a majority of West Bank Palestinians in the Jordan Chamber
of Deputies protested against Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank (Ma’oz, 1984,
p. 28). In 1965, Ismail Shammout created the first series of poster collections by
the Palestine Liberation Organization’s department of Art Education, which
included a map of Palestine with borders as they existed under the British Mandate.
As a result, the West Bank is illustrated as part of Palestine, implying that the land
is Palestinian and not Jordanian (Palestine Poster Project Archives, 2009–2019).
Yet, Palestinians also accepted, even if reluctantly and with reservation,
Jordanian annexation and rule of the West Bank as a reality. Although Palestinians
obtained Jordanian citizenship, they viewed Jordanian rule of the West Bank as a
temporary arrangement after Abdullah claimed that Jordan would preserve the
West Bank “as a trust pending the final settlement of the Palestine problem”
(Kramer, 2020). Writing in the Palestinian newspaper Falastin in 1951, Qadri
Tuqan, a writer from Nablus, summarized the Palestinian attitude toward Jordan’s
role in the West Bank:
Jordan, on both banks … has a special character compatible with its annexation to
every other Arab state. The Jordanian feels the danger that threatens Arab existence
in all the countries more than any other Arab. Moreover, there is no “local patriotism”
or “regional pride” in this state, but a willingness and ability to integrate rapidly with
a broader sector. (quoted in Mishal, 1978, pp. 14–15)9
Palestinian critiques against Hashemite rule of the West Bank ranged from a
perception of favoring the East Bank over the West Bank, discrimination against
Palestinians, and Jordanian efforts to reach a peace agreement with Israel and the
kingdom’s relationship with the West. Palestinian refugees blamed King Hussein
for their predicament and remained emotionally attached to their homeland in
Palestine. As a result, they did not identify with the Hashemite regime (Awwad,
2005, p. 33). However, despite these grievances, many Palestinians held important
roles in the Jordanian government, and their economic prosperity was linked to
8 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
the stability and longevity of the Hashemite Kingdom. Apart from the Communist
Party, which rejected Jordanian annexation of the West Bank (Sahliyeh, 1988, p.
18), there was no real movement among the Palestinians during Jordanian rule of
the West Bank to assert a distinct Palestinian identity and demand that the West
Bank secede from the East Bank (Ma’oz, 1984, pp. 28–29).
Facing no serious Palestinian secessionist movement, Jordanian stamps
continued to portray the West Bank as part of the kingdom. In 1964, Jordan issued
a stamp series commemorating the first Arab League summit held in Cairo and
attended by all thirteen Arab states (plate 1:3).10 The summit introduced the
concept of a Palestinian National Council and later created the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO). This particular series has drawn mixed interpretations, with
some pro-Israel advocates claiming that the stamps depict a maximalist or
“Greater Jordan” in which the expressed goal is no Israel or Palestine on the map
(Jewish Virtual Library, 1950). The official description in the Stanley Gibbons
and Scott catalogs add to the ambiguity and confusion of Jordan’s borders and
attitudes toward the West Bank and Palestine, with the former describing the
stamp as “King Hussein and Map of Palestine in 1920” and the latter describing it
as “King Hussein and Map of Jordan and Israel” (Stanley Gibbons Stamp
Catalogue, Part 19: Middle East, 1990, p. 250; Scott Catalogue Volume 4A 4B
Countries J-M, 2021, p. 225).
At face value, a “Greater Jordan” interpretation seems plausible, considering
the date on which it was published and the general anti-Israel Arab attitude. As
one philatelist with expertise in the British Mandate period commented, “The
region west of the Jordan ceased to be designated ‘occupied territory’ already in
April 1950, when it was formally annexed by the kingdom. Thus, no border, as the
stamp reflects.”11 According to another philatelist, however, there is insufficient
evidence to support claims that Jordan held maximalist territorial ambitions
encompassing the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, King Abdullah
annexed the West Bank to “protect whatever is left” from Palestine and its
remaining people. Perhaps, the philatelist adds, “King Hussein ‘inherited’ the role
of being a ‘host’ or ‘caretaker’ of the Palestine cause, so maybe that is why the
Jordanian artist portrayed Palestine in the stamp as the same color as Jordan, and
in contrast to other colors on the map.”12
Clearly, the intentional vagueness of the stamp has created mixed reactions.
The more accurate interpretation of the stamp is probably a celebration of the
original Palestine Mandate and seeks to stress the unity between Jordan and
Palestine and promote the concept of Jordanians and Palestinians as one people.
Thus, the stamp has more to do with Jordan’s perception of the original unity that
existed during the Mandate and less to do with King Hussein’s desire to conquer
all of Israel or Palestine. And yet interpretations of the stamp differ precisely
because of the political context of the period when the stamps were issued. Jordan
and the other Arab countries did not recognize Israel in 1964, and they depicted
Israel as “occupied Palestine” in official publications, speeches, and media outlets
(Harkabi, 1972, pp. 14–15).
Israel, the PLO and Disengagement from the West Bank
Perhaps more than Egypt and Syria, Jordan paid a bigger price for its participation
in the 1967 war. For Hussein, Jordan’s defeat had grave consequences for the
internal stability of the Hashemite Kingdom, drastically altering the geographic
and demographic makeup of the country. Six thousand Jordanians died during the
war, and Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, where
approximately 800,000 Palestinians resided. Jordan also received an additional
200,000 Palestinian refugees (Sinai and Pollack, 1977, p. 32). Under Israeli rule,
these Palestinians were not granted Israeli citizenship, but they retained Jordanian
passports and citizenship until King Hussein renounced ties to the West Bank in
1988. In addition, after the 1967 war, the Israeli postal administration opened in
the occupied territory in July and the use of Jordanian postage stamps in the West
Bank since 1948 ceased (Wallach, 1983, p. 8).
Viewing the West Bank as Jordanian land, Hussein insisted on its restoration
under Hashemite sovereignty. “It is part of our soil and country and also part of
the Arab homeland,” he announced at a press conference shortly after the 1967
war (Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Reports, 1967, pp. D1–D3).
Jordanian Foreign Minister Muhammad Adib al-Amiri amplified this opinion by
referring to the people on the West Bank as “the one million Arab Jordanians”
while ignoring any distinct Palestinian national identity (United Nations, 1967a).
The regime viewed the West Bank and its people as part and parcel of the
Hashemite Kingdom and Jordanian family and therefore did not believe they
contradicted Jordanian interests and policies.
Jordanian postage stamps throughout the 1970s continued to highlight the
unity of the two banks, conveyed that Jordanians and Palestinians were one people
with a shared destiny, and preserved the West Bank on maps in the hope that the
territory would eventually return to Jordan. In November 1972, four stamps were
issued to honor former Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tall, who was assassinated by the
Black September Organization, a more radical faction of Fatah whose namesake
is attributed to the clash in Jordan between the fedayeen and Jordanian army
during 1970–1971 (Odeh, 1999, p. 183). Two stamps in the series show Wasfi’s
picture alongside the Dome of the Rock, which symbolizes the Hashemite
guardianship of Jerusalem and Jordan’s close relationship with the Palestine
cause. The other two stamps include the Jordanian flag and Wasfi’s portrait
alongside a map of Jordan. The map includes two cities in Arabic: Amman, the
capital of Jordan, and Irbid, where he and his father, Mustafa Wahbi al-Tall, a
popular Jordanian poet, were raised. The stamp symbolizes a patriotic message of
a unified Jordan guided by Wasfi’s leadership (plate 1:4).13
The Wasfi al-Tall stamp also features the West Bank and the Dead Sea with a line
separating them from the Hashemite Kingdom and is the first instance of the
kingdom distinguishing the West Bank from Jordan since the 1950 annexation. The
early 1970s were challenging years in Jordanian-Palestinian relations, beginning
with Black September in 1970 and ending with the Rabat decision in 1974 to
recognize the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Although the Hashemite monarchy endured, communal relations between
10 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
Transjordanians and Palestinian-Jordanians suffered. As Stefanie Nanes notes, “The
events of 1970–1971 were much more disruptive to the idea of national integration
than the loss of the West Bank ever was. The war created high levels of distrust and
anger on both sides” (Nanes, 2003, p. 128). Thus, these events probably influenced
the attitudes and depictions of the West Bank on Jordanian postage stamps.
In his memoirs, Wasfi al-Tall acknowledges Jordan’s responsibility to protect
the West Bank and cautions that it would lose the land if the kingdom entered the
1967 war. Although an ardent supporter of the Arab cause of Palestine, Wasfi
distinguished support for the Palestinians, which he viewed as a just cause against
Zionism, and support for the PLO, which challenged Jordan’s historic role in
defending the Palestinians and threatened to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy.
After the loss of the West Bank during the 1967 war, the PLO increasingly
challenged Jordan’s role by establishing itself inside the kingdom to conduct
operations. However, Wasfi rejected the PLO’s claim to represent all Palestinian
people, viewing it as a direct threat to the stability of the Hashemite regime. “If I
do not own land in Palestine, this does not mean that I do not represent it, or that
I have no right to it,” he once said to King Hussein during a heated debate (Tall,
2020, pp. 11, 20–21).
Memoirs by Adnan Abu Odeh, former advisor to King Hussein and King
Abdullah, may offer additional clues by helping contextualize the geopolitical
environment. Abu Odeh recalls how pressure from Yasser Arafat and the negative
backlash Jordan faced after declaring war on the PLO in Black September in
1970, ultimately forced Jordan to give up the West Bank (Odeh & Tahir, 2017, pp.
36–37). Arafat accused King Hussein of attempting to abolish the PLO to reclaim
the West Bank for Jordan instead of returning it to the Palestinians. Indeed,
Hussein was so determined to retrieve the West Bank that he was prepared to
rename and restructure Jordan in a federation with the West Bank.
Hussein’s proposal called on Jordan to rebrand the Hashemite Kingdom as the
United Arab Kingdom, comprising two entities: a Jordanian one on the East Bank
and a Palestinian one on the West Bank. Amman would serve as both the federal
capital and the capital of the Jordanian province, and Jerusalem would serve as the
capital of the Palestinian sector (Odeh & Tahir, 2017, pp. 36–37). However,
Hussein’s federal plan was nearly rejected by all regional parties, among the most
important, the Israelis, Palestinians, and Egyptians. Abu Odeh summarizes how
rejection by Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat, and Yasser Arafat undermined Jordanian
claims to the land:
Israel considered the West Bank as a liberated territory, not a Jordanian occupied
land, while Sadat wanted to keep playing the Palestinian card to use it during peace
negotiations. As for Arafat, he believed that liberating the West Bank was the key to
a free Palestinian state. (Al Arabiya, 2016)
In October 1974, Palestinian and Arab pressure influenced a decision at the Arab
League Summit in Rabat to affirm the right of the Palestinian people to self-
determination. The decision supported the right for the Palestinians to return to
their homeland and to recognize the PLO as the sole, legitimate representatives of
the Palestinians. King Hussein went along with the decision but worked to
maintain sovereignty claims on the West Bank by creating a Consultative National
Council with Palestinians and preserving the 1950 annexation agreement to affirm
that the West Bank remained legally part of Jordan (Aruri, 1985).
Thus, the Wasfi al-Tall commemorative stamps showing a line separating the
West Bank from Jordan could have multiple interpretations. They could imply
that the West Bank had become a disputed or occupied territory after Israel
conquered the land during the 1967 war. They could symbolize the bitter memory
of Jordanian-Palestinian fighting during Black September and the bitter relations
between both communities after Wasfi’s assassination. Division of the West Bank
from Jordan could also represent Jordan’s painful reaction to Palestinian rejection
of the unity of the two banks expressed through Palestinian criticism of Hussein’s
United Arab Kingdom federal plan.
In 1973, another commemorative stamp set contrasted the West Bank from
Jordan proper. A three-set series issued with denominations ranging between 5,
10, and 15 fils memorialized the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Karameh, a
military conflict in March 1968 involving the Jordanian army and Palestinian
guerillas against Israel. All three stamps illustrate the West Bank in dotted lines to
show disputed or occupied borders with Israel. This distinction emphasizes the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank after 1967 and honors the Jordanian fighters
who fell during the battle. One stamp shows King Hussein on an Israeli tank,
symbolizing the Jordanian army’s victory in repelling Israeli forces from Jordanian
territory. This series intended to restore confidence among Jordanians after losing
the West Bank by shattering the perception of the “invincible Israelis” following
the 1967 war. Although Palestinian guerrillas assisted the Jordanian army during
the battle, this stamp series only highlights Jordan’s involvement through images
of Jordanian flags and soldiers (plate 1:5).14
The Wasfi al-Tall and Battle of Karameh stamps distinguish the West Bank
from Jordan because of the historical conflict surrounding the events of the
stamps, the former with the PLO and the latter with Israel. However, a four-set
commemorative series in 1973 titled “50th Anniversary of the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan” reverts to depictions of the West Bank as an inseparable part
of Jordan.15 Celebrating Jordan’s autonomy from Britain in 1923 and continuity
as a kingdom should be understood independent of any conflict or tension with
the Palestinians or Israelis. Thus, portraying the West Bank on the map with
Jordan aims to highlight the unity of the two banks and represent a unified
Transjordanian and Palestinian-Jordanian people and country under the wise
leadership of the Hashemites.
While Jordanian postage stamps usually include the West Bank as part of
Jordan and sometimes portray it as an occupied or disputed territory with Israel,
they occasionally recognize that the West Bank was not Jordanian land. Indeed,
Jordanian commemorative stamps recognize the West Bank as Palestinian land by
depicting it as part of central Palestine as it existed under the British Mandate. For
example, in 1965, a single Jordanian postage stamp titled “Deir Yassin Massacre”
was issued to memorialize the notorious massacre at Deir Yassin. In April 1948,
Irgun and Stern Gang fighters killed over 100 Palestinians in the village of Deir
12 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
Yassin, which had been earmarked by the United Nations Partition Plan to be part
of an independent Arab state. The stamp includes a map of Palestine with
boundaries as they existed under Mandatory Palestine, from the Jordan River to
the Mediterranean Sea. A dagger dripping with blood is thrust in the center of
Palestine to symbolize that Palestine is bleeding and to honor the martyrs who fell
at the hands of the Jews in Palestine (plate 1:6).16
Jordan’s release of the Deir Yassin stamp was not unique. Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait,
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the Yemen Arab Republic, and Algeria issued
commemoratives in support of Palestine (Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue, Part
19: Middle East, 1990, pp. 64, 147, 281, 336, 410, 470, 535), just as other Arab
countries had also previously issued the postal tax stamps in 1947 to raise funds
for the Arabs of Palestine. However, what distinguishes Jordan’s depictions of
Palestine from the other Arab states is that it was the only Arab country that
asserted sovereignty claims over a part of Palestine (the West Bank) while also
acknowledging that this land was Palestine. For example, Jordan’s relationship
with the West Bank differed from Egypt’s relationship with the Gaza Strip because
the West Bank had been an integral part of the Hashemite Kingdom since 1950,
while Egypt only administered it and never perceived it as part of the Egyptian
motherland. Depicting the West Bank as part of Jordan and also part of Palestine
underscores the fluidity and duality of the kingdom’s perception of the West Bank
both as a Jordanian and Palestinian territory. The Jordanian constitution in 1952
recognized the annexation of the West Bank as an indivisible part of the Hashemite
Kingdom, but the 1950 annexation agreement also acknowledged that rule of the
West Bank was temporarily held “in trust” for the Palestinian people.
In 1973, Jordan issued a four-set series of stamps called “Palestine Week” to
support the Palestine cause. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, and Syria also issued
stamps in support of the same theme. Jordan’s stamps show images of refugees,
children, and maps of Palestine. The map of Palestine is shaded in red without any
armistice lines or other border distinctions. Palestine’s borders span the territory
from the British Mandate stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean
Sea. The West Bank is included in the map as part of Palestine and is not omitted
or outlined in any manner to indicate that it is part of Jordan (plate 2:7).17
The 1973 Palestine Week series is another example of the evolution of
Jordanian stamp depictions of the West Bank from a purely Jordanian land, to an
occupied or disputed land, to a part of Palestine. What may appear to the casual
observer as vague portrayals of the West Bank in fact served Hashemite goals by
framing the land in a broader Jordanian, Arab, Palestinian and Islamic context to
buttress support and legitimacy for Hashemite claims to rule the land and represent
its people. Including or delineating the West Bank or portraying it as Palestine
should not be perceived as an arbitrary decision. On the contrary, disparate images
of the West Bank support Hashemite strategic messaging campaigns toward a
domestic (Jordanian) and international (Arab) audience to strengthen Jordan’s
policies which included ending Israeli rule of the West Bank; undermining and
competing with the PLO for influence in the West Bank; returning the West Bank
under Hashemite sovereignty; and acknowledging that Jordan supported the
Palestinian cause by “rescuing” part of Arab Palestine.
Palestinian attitudes shifted from conditional acceptance of Jordanian rule to
identifying with the PLO after the 1967 war. The loss of the West Bank inspired a
new Palestinian consciousness that asserted that Palestinians should rely upon
themselves, not Jordan nor any Arab state, to liberate their land. These attitudes
gained traction under the PLO, which evolved as an entity under Arab influence
and control in 1964, to an increasingly independent Palestinian nationalist
movement that advocated the liberation of all of Palestine and for the West Bank
to secede from Jordan (Awwad, 2005, p. 93). At the Arab League summit in
Khartoum after the 1967 war, PLO Chairman Ahmad al-Shukairy insisted that
Palestinians obtain self-determination independent of Jordan and asserted that the
PLO was the only authentic representative of the Palestinian people (Musa, 1996).
The majority of Palestinians and the PLO would have rejected Jordanian stamp
depictions of the West Bank because they came to view it as Palestinian land in
which Jordan had lost the legitimacy to protect, defend and assert sovereignty
claims. Some West Bank pro-Jordanian Palestinians looked to the Hashemite
Kingdom to protect their interests and liberate the West Bank from Israeli rule.
However, the Rabat decision to recognize the PLO undermined pro-Jordanian
Palestinians and challenged Jordanian sovereignty claims. After 1974, West Bank
Palestinians identified with the PLO to satisfy their national ambitions and
political objectives (Lukacs, 1997, p. 139). Despite the legacy of Jordan’s
influence in the West Bank, a majority of West Bank Palestinians in the early
1980s supported Palestinian nationalist ideology and rejected returning under
Jordanian sovereignty (Claiborne & Cody, 1980, p. 34).
Palestinian objections to Hashemite claims to the West Bank did not deter
Hussein to pursue diplomatic efforts to restore the West Bank while also competing
with Yasser Arafat and the PLO for influence over the right to rule the land and
represent the Palestinians. Jordanian stamp illustrations of the West Bank after
1974 highlighted the kingdom’s decision to maintain West Bank sovereignty
claims and undermine the PLO. On June 15, 1975, a three-set series were issued
14 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
with the value printed on the stamps ranging between 10, 30, and 60 fils to
celebrate the 10th anniversary of ALIA, the Royal Jordanian Airline. The stamps
display a globe and a desert, a Boeing 707 airliner linking a globe and a map of
Jordan and a globe, and a map of the “ALIA” logo. One stamp features a map of
Jordan which includes the West Bank (plate 2:8).18 This portrayal complements
the more frequent designs to indicate that the West Bank is or should be perceived
as a fundamental part of the Hashemite Kingdom.
On December 25, 1979, a three-set stamp series titled “Population and Housing
Census” shows images of a Jordanian family inside a map of Jordan (plate 2:9).19
Once again, the West Bank is included on the map as part of the Hashemite
Kingdom. The stamp serves as another reminder that the West Bank was
considered Jordanian land. It also implies that the territory should be restored
under the Hashemite monarchy despite the fact that Israel now occupied the West
Bank and the Arab League recognized the PLO. The PLO viewed the West Bank
as an occupied territory that should return to Palestinian, and not Jordanian, rule.
In the 1980s, Jordanian postage stamps amplified regime sentiment that Jordan,
and not the PLO, was authorized to liberate the West Bank. Sometimes Jordanian
leaders distinguished the West Bank from Palestine, and expressed Jordan’s role
and obligation in the former and the PLO’s responsibility with the latter. Jordanian
Speaker of the Parliament Akef al-Fayez captured these attitudes:
The West Bank has been an integral part of Jordan under the constitution of the
Hashemite Kingdom. Therefore, it is the responsibility of Jordan to regain the area
either through peace or war.… The PLO was established in 1964, before the
occupation of the West Bank. Therefore, the PLO’s authority and efforts, as derived
from the 1974 Arab Summit in Rabat, should be limited to the liberation of Palestine
rather than the West Bank. (Aruri, 1985)
On July 1, 1985, a three-set stamp series celebrated famous international
philatelists. One of the stamps includes Jordan’s first stamp artist, Yaqoub Youssef
al-Sukkar. The stamp features a portrait of Sukkar next to a map of Jordan with
three paint brushes sticking out from the center of the country. The West Bank is
shown on the map as part of the Hashemite Kingdom (plate 2:10).20 The last time
a Jordanian postage stamp included the West Bank as part of the Hashemite
Kingdom was on July 20, 1985. A series titled, “The First Conference for
Jordanians Abroad” depicts a conference emblem, globe, hand over a torch, and a
map of Jordan. The West Bank is attached to Jordan and Jerusalem is mentioned
by its Arabic name (plate 2:11).21
Just a few weeks later, however, the West Bank appears conspicuously absent
on stamps. On August 11, 1985, a five-set series titled “International Youth Year”
contains images of King Hussein and Jordanian youth. One stamp in this series
shows a picture of King Hussein, the Jordanian flag, and an Arab couple in
traditional dress on a map of Jordan without the West Bank (plate 2:12).22 Since
this date, Jordanian definitive postage stamps have excluded the West Bank on
maps as part of the Hashemite Kingdom.
The omission of the West Bank from Jordan during this specific time is not
entirely clear. After all, Jordan continued to pursue diplomacy to regain the West
Bank and the kingdom did not officially sever all legal and administrative ties to
the land until 1988. Moreover, despite the kingdom’s disengagement decision,
Jordanian textbooks and television continued to show the West Bank as part of
Jordan into the early 1990s (Susser, 1990, pp. 28–29). The author corresponded
with philatelists with expertise in Jordanian postage stamps but failed to come
away with a clear and concise reason why Jordanian stamps ceased showing the
West Bank as part of Jordan in this stamp and in the three years prior to
In hindsight, the omission of the West Bank as part of Jordan in 1985 followed
a series of events that undermined Jordan’s claims to the West Bank and persuaded
the kingdom to abandon sovereignty claims in effect since 1950. In February
1985, Hussein and Arafat agreed to cooperate under a joint Jordanian-Palestinian
delegation to achieve a political settlement with Israel based on UNSC resolutions
242 and 338. During these talks, Arafat indicated that he would support self-
determination for Palestinians that included a West Bank confederation with
Jordan, provided that West Bank Palestinians gain autonomy under Hashemite
sovereignty (Odeh, 1999, pp. 221–223).
However, Arafat’s attitude toward the West Bank and Jordan fluctuated.
Hussein lost patience and by the end of 1985, the prospect of achieving a
Jordanian-Palestinian confederation collapsed (Al O’ran, 2009, pp. 14–15). The
first Palestinian intifada (uprising) on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1987
challenged two decades of Israeli military rule, and also challenged Jordanian
claims to rule the West Bank and represent the Palestinians. In July 1988, after
years of competing with the PLO and accepting Jordan’s inability to end Israel’s
occupation of the West Bank, Hussein severed Jordan’s legal and administrative
ties to the West Bank. Disengagement intended to shift responsibility from the
kingdom to the PLO to regain the West Bank and allow the Palestinians to
establish an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and any other territory
they could liberate (King Hussein, 1988). Disengagement helped Hussein
underscore that Jordan was not Palestine and that Jordan would never become an
alternative Palestinian homeland. Disengagement also helped improve bilateral
relations between Jordan and the PLO because the kingdom no longer competed
with the PLO to rule the West Bank and represent the Palestinian people.
Postage stamps convey powerful symbols and messages to a domestic and
international audience. From 1952 to 1985, the majority of maps displaying the
West Bank on Jordanian postage stamps include the land as part of the Hashemite
Kingdom. These depictions suggest that the West Bank is Jordanian territory and
that despite Israel’s occupation of the land and the Arab League’s recognition of
the PLO, the land should return under Hashemite sovereignty. Commemorative
16 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
stamps sometimes show a line separating the West Bank from Jordan to suggest a
territorial dispute with Israel after the 1967 war. Divisions could also symbolize
the sensitive and tumultuous climate of Jordanian-Palestinian relations following
the insurgency between the PLO and regime in 1970, the assassination of Wasfi
al-Tall by Palestinian militants in 1971, and PLO rejection of King Hussein’s
1972 United Arab Kingdom plan. And at the same time, commemoratives of
Palestine occasionally portray the West Bank as part of Palestine and not Jordan,
and depict Palestine’s boundaries as they existed under the British Mandate, from
the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Even without a concise explanation of the decision-making process for the
exclusion of the West Bank as part of Jordan in the International Youth Year stamp
in August 1985, the exclusion paradoxically enhances the continuity of Jordan’s
dynamic perception of the West Bank as a Jordanian territory, an Israeli-occupied
land, a disputed land with the PLO, and a Palestinian land. Thus, images of the
West Bank as part of Jordan were designed to bolster Hashemite legitimacy to rule
the West Bank and defend the Palestine cause. Images of the West Bank with
demarcated boundaries conveyed that the land was occupied and implied its return
under Hashemite rule. And images of the West Bank as part of Palestine sought to
influence Palestinians that Jordan recognized the land as Palestinian which the
regime could cite as proof that it was the biggest defender of the Palestine cause
and Jordanian rule or claims of the West Bank were provisionally sanctioned to
protect Arab land until the liberation of Palestine.
Therefore, Jordanian stamps do not stray from official Hashemite policy
toward the West Bank and Palestine. There was no inherent contradiction or
tension in Jordanian stamp depictions of the West Bank as part of Jordan and
Palestine because the land represents a metaphysical manifestation of both
entities; it had been entrusted to the Hashemites in Jordan to defend until the
appropriate time for the liberation of Palestine and the West Bank had also
constituted a major region in central Palestine under the British Mandate.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
1. Jordan also occupied Eastern Jerusalem during the 1948 war and annexed it in 1950.
The purpose of this study is to limit the focus to Jordanian depictions of the West
Bank on postage stamps. Unlike the West Bank, Jerusalem remains a common motif in
Jordanian postage stamps.
2. King Hussein’s decision to disengage from the West Bank on July 31, 1988, did
not include Jordan’s guardianship role over the Muslim Holy Sites of Jerusalem,
a prestigious position dating back to 1924 when Palestinian Arabs appealed to the
Hashemites to renovate al-Aqsa Mosque.
3. Sukkar designed several series from 1933 to 1959 including Tourism in Jordan (1933),
which consists of images of famous historical monuments and archaeological sites
including the Roman ruins at Jerash, Kerak Castle (Crusader Castle), and the Treasury
of Petra. This series was designed to help promote foreign tourism in Transjordan and
earned Sukkar an award at a Florida exhibition in 1936. Other famous Sukkar stamp
designs include National Independence of Jordan (1946), Obligatory Tax Stamps to
the aid fund for Palestine (1947), Inauguration of 1st National Parliament (1947), 75th
Anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (1949), Unification of Jordan and Arab
Palestine (1952), Enthronement of King Hussein (1953), Views of Jordan in 1954, and
King Hussein Definitives (1959).
4. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “National
Independence of Jordan,” May 25, 1946, Stanley Gibbons 257. Imperforate sets were
also distributed as souvenirs.
5. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Mosques,”
May 31, 1947, Stanley Gibbons T265.
6. The UN Partition Plan in 1947 allocated Acre to be part of a future Arab state but the
city became part of Israel in 1948.
7. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Jordanian
Occupation of Palestine - Emir Abdullah Overprinted ‘Palestine,’” 1948, Stanley
8. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Unification
of Jordan and Arab Palestine,” April 1, 1952, Stanley Gibbons 355.
9. Quote cited from Qadri Tuqan, Filastin, December 8, 1951.
10. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Arab
Summit Conference - King Hussein and Map of Palestine in 1920,” September 5,
1964, Stanley Gibbons 598.
11. Author e-mail correspondence with Dr. Barry Katz about the historical background of
this postage stamp, December 17, 2019.
12. Author e-mail correspondence with Mahdi Bseiso about the historical background of
this postage stamp, March 26, 2020. Mahdi Bseiso is a philatelist and administrator
of jordanstamps.com, a website that catalogs all Jordanian stamps from 1920 until the
13. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Wasfi
al-Tall (Assassinated Statesman),” November 28, 1972, Stanley Gibbons 986.
14. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “5th
Anniversary of the Battle of Karama,” April 10, 1973, Stanley Gibbons 1001. A second
series was issued to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Karama on
March 21, 2018, without a map of the West Bank.
15. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “50th
Anniversary of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” February 1973, Stanley Gibbons
16. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Deir Yassin
Massacre,” April 9, 1965, Stanley Gibbons 648.
17. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Palestine
Week,” November 15, 1973, Stanley Gibbons 1025.
18 Contemporary Review of the Middle East
18. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “10th
Anniversary of Alia (Royal Jordanian Airlines),” June 15, 1975, Stanley Gibbons 1121.
19. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Population
and Housing Census,” December 25, 1979, Stanley Gibbons 1259.
20. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “Postal
Celebrities,” July 1, 1985, Stanley Gibbons 1445.
21. Author’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “The First
Conference for Jordanians Abroad,” July 20, 1985, Stanley Gibbons 1447.
22. Author ’s personal stamp collection of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, “International
Youth Year,” August 11, 1985, Stanley Gibbons 1450.
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