The watermelon as a symbol of Palestinian solidarity
May 13, 2024
watermelon as a symbol

The watermelon as a symbol of Palestinian solidarity began in 1967 and was revived in 2021.
Watermelon, the classic and beloved summer fruit, has taken social media by storm, becoming a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The watermelon has been featured in thousands of social media posts following the invasion of Israeli kibbutzim by Hamas militants and the war Israel launched in Gaza and Rafah. But how is the watermelon connected to Palestine and how to Eurovision?

The story of the Palestinian watermelon

The use of the watermelon as a symbol of Palestine is nothing new. It first emerged during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza and annexed west Jerusalem. At the time the Israeli government had criminalized the use of the Palestinian flag in Gaza and the West Bank.

To circumvent the ban, the Palestinians started using the watermelon as a symbol, because when cut it has the same colors as the Palestinian flag: red, black, green and white. The Israeli government didn’t just destroy the flag though. Artist Sliman Mansour told The National in 2021 that Israeli officials in 1980 shut down an exhibition at Gallery 79 in Ramallah, featuring works by him and other artists, including Nabil Anani and Issam Badrl.

“We were told that it is forbidden to paint the Palestinian flag, as well as its colors. So Issam Badrl said: “What if I made a flower out of red, green, black and white?” The officer replied angrily “It will be confiscated. Even if you paint a watermelon, it will be confiscated.”

Israel lifted its ban on the Palestinian flag in 1993 as part of the Oslo Accords, which entailed mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestinian Authority and were the first formal agreements to attempt to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The flag was accepted as representative of the Palestinian Authority, which would govern Gaza and the West Bank. The watermelon as a symbol of Palestinian solidarity re-emerged in 2021, following an Israeli court ruling that Palestinian families based in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem would be evicted from their homes to make way for settlers.

Watermelon as a symbol today

In January, Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, ordered police to confiscate Palestinian flags. This followed a law passed last June that banned people from flying the flag at state-sponsored institutions, including universities. The bill initially passed but then the government fell.

In June, the Arab-Israeli organization Zazim launched a campaign to protect and ensure that no arrests and confiscations of Palestinian flags would follow. Images of watermelons were plastered on 16 taxis operating in Tel Aviv, with the accompanying text reading: “This is not a Palestinian flag.”

“Our message to the government is clear: we will always find a way to circumvent any unreasonable ban and we will not stop fighting for freedom of expression and democracy,” said Zazim director Raluca Ganea. “If you want to stop us, we will find another way to express ourselves,” the Palestinians said.

How is Eurovision involved?

Now the internet is filled with pictograms, emojis and other typographical codes that signal political dissent.
The watermelon emoji is the latest example. Watermelons have long been a staple in the region, with some dishes, such as a popular salad in southern Gaza, originating from Arab Bedouin tribes.

Increasingly, young activists are adopting the watermelon emoji to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Eurovision is a music competition that wants to be presented as apolitical and prohibits any political expression and overtones. So the only way to pass one’s reaction to the crime that is being committed in Palestine, is the watermelon.

The emoji could confuse algorithms that supporters of the move say tech companies are developing to suppress posts with keywords like “Gaza” or “Palestinian.”

Berlin-based York has analyzed Meta’s policies. While the “shadow ban,” or limited visibility of some posts, can be hard to discern, advocacy and nonprofit organizations studying digital rights in the Middle East say they’ve observed strong biases, especially on Meta’s platforms, Facebook and Instagram.

Meta hasn’t said much directly about it, but it cites a statement released in October. “Censorship is kind of obvious” on Instagram, York said. In mid-October, people started noticing that if someone wrote on Instagram “Palestine” in English along with the Palestinian flag emoji and “Praise God” in Arabic, the app would translate the text to “Terrorist.” Meta was forced into a public apology. And that’s how the watermelon became the expression of solidarity in Palestine and on social media.

But the watermelon is not the only symbol. Other signs of global Palestinian solidarity include keys, spoons, olives, doves, poppies and the keffiyeh scarf.

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