Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stamps from the Land of Dignity

I've shown many postage stamps in my Anti-Americana series: these tiny works of art serve an expressive and propagandistic purpose, a direct communication from the issuing nation not only to its own citizens but to the peoples of the world. There's an interesting story in this regard just now coming out of Palestine.

With the establishment of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority on the Occupied West Bank and in Gaza following the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel granted the PA limited control of its own postal services including the right to issue its own stamps. Even though international authorities like the Universal Postal Union don't usually recognize the authority of states that are not fully independent, an exception was made and the new stamps of the Palestinian Authority were to be recognized as valid on international mails. Given the complex political and diplomatic situation between the Palestinian Authority, the Arab states and Israel this has not always been smooth going, but it's all legit in theory.

Israel placed several demands on the Palestinians: the subject matter of the stamps had to be "peaceful," and Israel reserved the right to reject stamps--and the mail bearing them--whose designs were deemed controversial. The Palestinian Authority began issuing stamps in 1994. The first batch of stamps were denominated in "mils," the currency of the pre-Israel Palestine mandate. Israel objected, and the Palestinians had to recalibrate the stamps in Jordanian currency.

Then the Palestinians issued a set of stamps picturing the original stamps issued by the Palestine Mandate back in the 1930s. Again Israel objected. So the Palestinian Authority played by the rules and stuck to extremely "safe" subjects: the flora and fauna of the region, Christmas holidays (think Bethlehem, in Palestine), international sporting events, and the like. As relations between the PA and Israel worsened, and then when the Hamas movement won legislative elections in Gaza, normal things like issuing stamps fell to the wayside. In 2009 the Palestine Authority tried to issue stamps to honor the central role of Jerusalem/Al Quds in Arab culture (part of an international series by many Arab countries), and Israel suppressed the effort, seizing the printed stamps before they could be released.

Now, nearly two years after Israel's brutal attack on Gaza, the so-called "Operation Cast Lead," the Hamas-run Gaza wing of the Palestinian Authority has found its own voice. Several sets of stamps have been issued this year with designs and themes that most definitely would not meet the approval of Israel censors. Hamas basically issued a big "fuck you" to the rules about content, which probably means mail using these stamps won't make it through Israeli controls. One senses the "fuck you" is also aimed at the Al-Fatah wing of the Palestine Authority, which, according to Wikileaks anyway, seems to have given tacit assent to the Israeli attack on Hamas and Gaza's civilians.

One of the sets is shown above. The stamps read, "Gaza, Land of Dignity," and the special commemorative envelope bearing them honors "Our People's Steadfastness against The Siege." Others released at the same time mark the "Significance of Al-Aqsa and Al-Quds in Muslims' Hearts," "Palestinian National Unity," and the "Resistance Victory Against Aggression on Gaza," this one showing two small children embracing amidst the ruins of the Israeli attack.

I think this kind of postal or philatelic resistance is inspiring. Despite the attempts of the Israeli state and the western powers to subdue the Palestinian people through fake peace talks and negotiations for an apartheid-style Bantustan micro-state, the Palestinians are going ahead and acting like a nation.

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