The Palestine Pound: A Precarious History

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Al-Akhbar Management

By: Taghrid Atallah

Published Thursday, September 22, 2011

With the Palestinian Authority pushing for international recognition at the UN, an elderly Palestinian historian recalls an evasive symbol of Palestinian identity – the Palestinian pound.

Gaza - Did Palestine ever have its own currency? If so, what was the form of the currency used prior to the Nakba in 1948?

Ahmad al-Haj, a history professor born in 1933, does not speak proudly of what was once known as the Palestinian pound. He regrets that no authentic Palestinian currency or stamp has been issued as Palestine passed from one foreign ruler to another who imposed their own currency.

Ottoman currency was used under Ottoman rule, while the Egyptians introduced the Egyptian pound during their brief rule in the mid-19th century. Al-Haj indicates that Palestinians named the Egyptian currency 'masari' - a term derived from the Arabic word for Egypt, 'misr', and now commonly used to refer to money in general – to distinguish between the Egyptian and Ottoman currencies.

In 1917, Palestine was designated as a ‘national homeland for the Jews’ according to the Balfour Declaration. Under the British mandate that followed, the Palestinian pound was issued with Arabic and English scripts reading ‘Palestine’, but with an additional Hebrew script reading ‘land of Israel.’

Al-Haj was less than 10 years old at the time but vividly recalls the design of the Palestinian pound. He describes a coin in the form of a golden disc resembling the British and Ottoman pounds. Wealthy women made chains out of holed gold coins and wore them as either jewelry over their heads or as a means to tie a head scarf.

The Palestinian pound was also issued in paper money. The one pound bill was green, while the four and five pound notes were red and earthy brown respectively.

Al-Haj also remembers the design of postage stamps prior to 1948. Postage stamps issued under the British mandate of Palestine were later replaced by Egyptian stamps during Egyptian rule, with the script reading ‘Palestine.’

Al-Haj recounts these stories with an expression of melancholy.

“The only thing that will bring Palestine back is liberation,” he laments. “Remembering stamps and currencies made by occupiers will not do Palestine any good.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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