My Father’s Passport
As usual, on my way to my church office I am greeted by the shopkeepers and often invited in for tea or coffee. This morning I had a wonderful conversation with Mr. Rassag Bishtawi and during that conversation he said “would you like to see my father’s passport?”
He pulled his father’s passport out of a cupboard and here was a British passport stamped with Palestine on the front cover issued to one Abd er Rassag Eff Abdullah Bishtrawi, the father of the shop owner. On the inside cover it had the usual preamble request almost the same as you would find in a current British passport , i.e.
By his Majesty’s High Commissioner for Palestine these are to request and requires in the name of his majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him every assistance and protection of which he may stand in need.
Given at Jerusalem on the 28th day of February 1944 signed High Commissioner.
I have in the past heard Jewish settlers say that “Palestine never existed” (and in fact this is a popular narrative in Israel today).
This passport is certainly one proof that Palestine did exist during the British mandate from 1925 until 1948, but of course that is not the only proof that Palestine and the Palestinians existed as a Land and as a People from ancient times.
Palestinians find it very hurtful to be told that “Palestine ever existed” – it denies their identity as a people and degrades their legitimacy to live in the historical Land of Palestine , as they have for thousands of years.
It is true to say that Palestine never existed as an independent “Nation State” in the sense of the modern definition of a nation state. But neither did Israel for that matter and many other countries in the world today did not exist as nation states per se.
The narrative in Israel runs as follows: Israel existed as the home of the Jews from ancient times in the independent provinces of Judea and Samaria the northern and the southern kingdoms which were ruled by the Hebrew Kings who fought off their tribal enemies and fiercely protected their territory. The bible being the main source of the epic stories.
So one could argue that state of Israel today should in fact, exist in Judea and Samaria – exactly where the West Bank is today, and that Palestine (which was historically along the coast and in the coastal plain) should be where Israel is today!
Looking at Mr. Bishtawi’s passport it is interesting to note that the passport is in 3 languages: English, Arabic and Hebrew. Another interesting fact is that this is a passport of Palestine for a “Palestinian citizen” (see page 1) issued on date 28th of February 1944 at a time when Israel did not exist as a nation state. However no one in their right mind would deny the right of the Jewish people to their Homeland in Israel and we, the International Community (through the UN) made that possible – which was the right thing to do.
Palestine has Existed for Thousands of Years
Historically, Palestine was a province of Greater Syria although it was sometimes under the control of Egypt and Persia. The Palestinians have been in existence for thousands of years – they were a coastal people living along the coastal plain from Acre to Gaza. They were known at different times as Canaanites they were also known as Phoenicians by the Greeks and Falestini later.They were a prosperous and rich nation who discovered purple dye which was used to make very expensive cloth – the kind worn by Kings and Bishops.
The Phoenicians and Marine Insurance
The Palestinians (Phoenicians) were also shipping people and I found it interesting early in my Marine Insurance Group career to learn that the Phoenicians had invented the idea of marine insurance by spreading their cargoes over various vessels rather than “putting all their eggs in one basket” so to speak.
This idea of spreading the risk is the present one used today by Lloyds of London to insure ships on a subscription policy.
My first job at Lloyds was with the Alliance Assurance Company in their Marine Department at 40 Lime Street London The Alliance Insurance was owned by the Rothschilds who were very active in the early settlement of Jews to Palestine. The underwriters at the Alliance in the early part of the twentieth century were very keen to insure cargo, household goods and personal effects, including precious items of of antiquity and religious significance for the returning Jews.The insured the cargoes on a “door to door” basis which was rare at the time and they kept a map of Palestine and on it they shaded and marked the areas where the Jews were mainly settling – mainly around central Palestine – what is now present-day Tel Aviv.
One day I was asked to clean out some old files from the basement and I came upon a box of old Maps which my senior underwriter told me to get rid of. I kept the maps and still have the one of Palestine with the shaded areas clearly marked in roman numerals which was still a style of numbering when I joined the Alliance in 1969. Here are pictures of the map.
A Relic of History
It looks like the late Mr. Bishtawi did not travel very far out side the region – there is only one visa stamp in the Passport, but his son – the man I am speaking with and who is making tea for me!- has traveled widely – 12 trips/holidays to distant places like the USA and to Europe and the Balkans. He holds a Palestinian Passport and a Jordanian Passport and wonders if he might be able to get a British one – based on the fact that his father had one ! I told him gently there is simply no chance of that.
Mel – Nablus Nov 2016
 Underlined: denotes written in by hand