Museum to showcase bewildering history of Palestinian money

A new money museum in Ramallah will display all the 28 different currencies Palestine has used over the ages.

al-monitor A man displays an old Palestinian coin in his shop, Hebron, West Bank, June 8, 2008. Photo by REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun.

Sep 6, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestine is set to open an interactive money museum by next spring that will showcase the monetary history of a land that has used more than 28 different currencies in its volatile past.

The museum will be created through cooperation between the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA), the Ramallah-based central bank that is responsible for formulating and implementing the country's monetary and banking policies.

PMA Governor Azzam al-Shawa told Al-Monitor that the museum will tell the story of the Palestinian economy through the ages — from the time of bartering to modern economic concepts. The museum, to be located at the PMA headquarters, will also support research and publication in monetary and financial history with its research and resource center.

Jihad Yassin, the director general of the Archaeological Excavations Department at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, explained that his ministry will provide the museum with coins that were confiscated from antiquities smugglers. The ministry will also restore ancient coins that will be placed in the museum to offer a chronological display of money used throughout the different eras.

Palestinians started using coins for transactions in the 5th century BCE, with the Persian conquest of Palestinian lands. The Persian coins replaced the barter system, said Mohammed al-Zard, head of the Palestinian Association of Coins and Stamps Collectors.

He told Al-Monitor that the Persian coins were not used in the entirety of the Palestinian territories, as the coastal areas were controlled by the Canaanites, who introduced their own coins in their dealings with Persians.

“In the third century BC, after the conquest of Alexander the Great, Palestinians traded using Greek coins, which were minted in the ancient Kingdom of Gaza and were also accepted across the Greek territories,” he added.

Palestinians later used Byzantine coins and after the Muslim conquest, Islamic ones. “Islamic coins appeared in 696 AD during the Umayyad era and were highly valued in Palestine. After the Umayyads came the Abbasids. Money minting, however, did not flourish until the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Palestine for four centuries and came to an end after the First World War in 1917,” Zard said.

He explained that during the British Mandate of Palestine, which began in 1920, the Ottoman lira and the Egyptian pound could both be used for daily transactions. This practice came to an end in 1927, when the British Colonial Council’s Currency Committee introduced the Palestinian pound, whose value was equal to the pound sterling. These coins, minted in London, could be used in other parts of the Middle East under the British Mandate, such as Transjordan Emirate.

The minting stopped in 1947, shortly before the establishment of Israel, but the Palestinian pound was used into the early 1950s.

“In 1967, Israel occupied all of the Palestinian territories. Back then, the currency was the Israeli lira [also known as Israeli Pound] and then was replaced with first the old shekel, then the New Israeli Shekel. Finally, with the signing of the Oslo Accords, three currencies could be used for trade in the Palestinian territories: NIS, the US dollar, and the Jordanian dinar,” Zard said.

He continued, “Palestine has used 28 different currencies over the ages, all of which will be viewable in the money museum, displayed in chronological order for visitors so they can gain insight into Palestine’s monetary history.”

Shawa said that museum will include several sections: an area for permanent exhibitions on themes such as pre-cash trading and global banknotes, an interactive map and a timeline on development of money and how coins were and are minted. A special section will also focus on the PMA’s history since its establishment in 1994, its key documents and its future plans. 

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