Seeing Palestine Through Old Postage Stamps

Artist Gaston Zvi Ickowicz uses the mail of the past to paint a picture of the Israeli-Palestinian battle over space

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Landscape #4 (The stamp was issued between 1970-1972), 2022
Landscape #4 (The stamp was issued between 1970-1972), 2022
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

In contrast to Palestinian tourist postcards that focused on sites of religious, political or historical importance, in the early 1970s the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine issued a series of postage stamps with a pastoral theme.

This stamp series is the point of departure for a solo exhibition by visual artist Gaston Zvi Ickowicz, “An Entirely Different Map of the Country,” at the the gallery of the arts faculty at Beit Berl College in Tel Aviv.

The name of the exhibition is taken from a book by lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh, “Palestinian Walks,” in which he quotes a saying by Ariel Sharon from the 1980s. The postcards show everyday scenes – a neighborhood, orchard, field, beach. Ickowicz enlarged a number of the stamps to a huge size and showed them alongside pictures he photographed himself in Bethlehem at Rachel’s Tomb, and the East Jerusalem neighborhood of a-Tur.

Landscape #2 (The stamp was issued between 1970-1972), 2022
Landscape #3 (The stamp was issued between 1970-1972), 2022

The artist, who was born in Argentina in 1974 and immigrated to Israel in 1980, often photographs areas in the West Bank and its settlements. “There is something almost innate in me that always drew me in the political direction, even though my parents are not very political,” says Ickowicz. “From age 14, 15, from the period of the first intifada, I was politically active and I went to demonstrations. I also grew up in Be’er Sheva, which in my eyes represents the inequality between the weak and the strong, between the ‘periphery’ and the center. That also allowed me to have this perspective.”

Envelope, issue of victory for the Six Day War, detail from the exhibition, 2022.Credit: Six Days War Victory publishers

In the exhibit, Ickowicz presents on tables a number of items, such as envelopes Israel issued in 1967 to mark the opening of post office branches in the West Bank and Gaza under the auspices of the military. These include branches in Salfit, Rafah and Khan Yunis. Relatively generic photographs are printed on envelopes of the natural scenery in the areas that characterize the West Bank and Gaza, from an Orientalist stance that lacks any clues of military occupation.

Alongside the Israeli envelopes are Palestinian stamps and labels from different periods – the 1970s, the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and on to today. In most cases, these are not stamps that were meant to be used, but labels that were printed by official or private bodies as a means of propaganda or for gathering donations.

Envelope, issue of victory for the Six Day War, detail from the exhibition, 2022.Credit: Six Days War Victory publishers

The curator of the exhibition, Avi Lubin, wrote that “Ickowicz presents a multi-layered and non-linear picture of the visual struggles over the landscape, the borders and the history of Israel and Palestine. He directs our attention to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts manifests itself in an attempt to control everyday spaces, and not necessarily the religious ones.”

Rachel's Tomb (Bethlehem) 2022.Credit: Gaston Zvi Ickowicz

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