Clear and legible address is important….

They say that luck favors the open minded. For that, we need to stay open and curious because modern postal history can still surprise us. I bought this cover (Fig. 1 -2) recently.

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At first, it looked like a banal Beirut airmail cover heading to France in 1959 with a transit journey in Holy-Land. But then I realized quickly that this cover was misguided : Bethune (a town north of France) was misread as Bethlehem.

The error has been facilitated by the absence of transcript of the country of destination (France). This was rectified only later with a blue pen on the front cover: “Pas de calais, France

The result, many Palestinian and Jordanian postmarks affixed in the back of the cover!

In a chronological order, we find:

  • Jerusalem 6: 26 Feb 59
  • Amman 2: 28 Feb 59
  • Jerusalem 5: 2 Mar 59
  • Bethlehem 2: 2 Mar 59
  • Jerusalem 6: 3 Mar 59
  • Ramallah 3: 3 Mar 59

Reminder of polical/military background :

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip became distinct geographical units as a result of the 1949 armistice that divided the new Jewish state of Israel from other parts of Mandate Palestine.

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From 1948 to 1967, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was ruled by Jordan (Fig.3). During this period, the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian military administration.

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel took control of the western part of Jerusalem, while Jordan took the eastern part, including the old walled city containing important Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites (Fig. 4 and 5)

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Covers from Bethlehem with Advertisment to visit the Holy Land part of Jordan Kingdom.

Beirut 25 Fev.1959 – Jerusalem 26 Feb.1959

It is obvious that the cover from Beirut (Fig.1) could not have reached Jerusalem by land, or at least not in one day. It had to be flown over. Jerusalem had it’s own airport. After the creation of the state of Israel and the loss of Lydda airport as the main international gateway of Palestine coupled with the division of the country, Transjordan found itself without any major civil international airport (and without any civil aviation facilities as a matter of fact).

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To this effect, a former RAF base at Kolundia was chosen to house the new Jerusalem airport. Hence, the Kingdom by the end of decade had 2 international airports Amman and Jerusalem. The latter, however, took precedence over Amman at attracting major international airlines (MEA, Misr Air, Air Liban, Kuwait Airways) as most of the religious sites were located In the West Bank rather than in Amman (Fig.6).

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Fig.7: An advertising in an Arabic magazine for MEA, informing about a 3 daily flight from Beirut to Jerusalem. These flights went on till 1967 when Jerusalem fell in Zionist hands.

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Another possible competitor to have carried the mail from Beirut to Jerusalem is the Arab Airways (Fig.8 and 8a) or to be more specific its successor Air Jordan of the Holy Land (Arab Airways and Air Jordan merged on 1 December 1958).

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Fig 10 Arab Airways timetable effective from 23 August 1953. Fig 9 Arab Airways Air-routes plan.                                               Chronologically after arrival in Jerusalem, the cover is directed to Amman. Why? For administrative or other reasons? I don’t have the answer. Yet. Nevertheless the cover continues all the way to Bethlehem, before probably noticing the error and correcting its path. Strange how nobody intervened earlier! Bethlehem is probably where the correct destination was marked. The cover returns to Jerusalem and continues to Ramallah (probably because Jerusalem International Airport was closer to Ramallah around 15 Km than the center of Jerusalem) before its final destination? We’ll never know.

What a digression I made from a common courier who has gone astray. On the other hand it is still difficult for  me to believe that 60 years ago, Jerusalem was only an hour by plane from Beirut and that daily flights were scheduled. So close but so far…