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Return to Sender
Artist: Jacek R. Kowalski (Poland)
Dimensions: 19” x 28”

This poster consists of a blue international airmail envelope featuring the word “Palestine” as the address typed across the center in capital letters. This address is cancelled out by an arc of red six-pointed stars or Magen David (Hebrew: Star of David), representing the state of Israel’s refusal to recognize any place by that name.

A rubber stamp bearing the term “Return to Sender — No Such Address” reinforces the official Israeli position of 1979. The postage stamp is from the United Nations, which has its own postal system; it bears an outgoing cancellation mark from the U.S. Postal Service’s New York office and an incoming cancellation mark in the form of a large blue Star of David. “Return to Sender” won first prize in a 1979 international poster contest entitled Palestine: A Homeland Denied.


This poster appeared long before the Camp David talks, the Oslo Peace Accords, or the intifada (Arabic: uprising). At the time it was published, it was considered impolitic to even mention the word “Palestine” in public or private conversation in the United States. The U.S. government had no official relations with any Palestinian political organization.

So taboo was Palestine at this time that Andrew Young, the American ambassador to the U.N., was forced to resign in 1979 (the same year this poster was printed) after it became known that he had met informally with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Zuhdi Terzi, in violation of the U.S. government’s official “no talk” policy towards the PLO.

The U.N. created the state of Israel in 1948, paying little attention to the rights or preferences of the indigenous Palestinian people who would be most affected by its decision. This poster is a reminder of the U.N.’s responsibilities, both for creating the state of Israel as well as for the continued statelessness of millions of Palestinians. It is also a reminder of Israel’s truculent refusal to face up to the truths about its own history.

Between the turn of the century and Israel’s independence in the 1948 the Zionist nation-building efforts exhorted Jewish emigration to “Palestine.” After independence, the use of the word was socially and politically proscribed in the West. The U.S. government acquiesced in this deceit for more than forty years, until the 1991 Madrid Conference where the idea of an independent Palestinian state was formally, and finally, embraced by the United States as part of the Oslo peace process.

© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.

Questions for A New
Democratic Discussion

1) Given that the word “Palestine” was taboo for so long, are there other words or ideas related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that also had been off-limits in the past or that remain so today?

2) In 1975, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Yigal Allon signed the “U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Agreement” that formally committed the U.S. to not recognize the PLO. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan entered into a “dialogue” with the PLO as a result of its public acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, Yitzak Shamir, was “indignant” and Reagan had to assure him that this decision was not an indication that the U.S. was diminishing its support for Israel. Why should Israel have been upset by the American decision? Should any foreign country be permitted to dictate to the U.S. which countries, groups, or movements it recognizes or communicates with? Does the U.S. exert any reciprocal power over Israel relative to the countries, movements, or groups it recognizes?


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