How the watermelon became a global symbol of Palestinian solidarity


Over the past three months, an image of protest has emerged around the world, on banners and T-shirts and balloons and social media posts. Israel-Hamas war: watermelon.

The colors of the cut watermelon – with red flesh, greenish-white rind and black seeds – resemble the Palestinian flag. From New York and Tel Aviv Dubai And in Belgrade, the fruit has become a symbol of solidarity, bringing together activists who may not speak the same language or come from the same culture but share a common objective.

To avoid repressive censorship, Chinese dissidents once pioneered “algospeak,” or creative shorthand that bypasses content moderation, which has recently been seen Winnie the Pooh makes fun of Chinese President Xi Jinping, People around the world started using Algospeak to address algorithmic biases on TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms.

The Internet is now filled with pictorial signs – pixelated images, emojis and other typographic codes – that signal political dissent. The watermelon emoji is the latest example of this.

Here’s how the watermelon went from being a symbol of protest in the West Bank and Gaza to becoming a global sign of solidarity with Palestinians online.

historical context

Following the 1967 Mideast War, the Israeli government cracked down on the display of Palestinian flags in Gaza and the West Bank. In Ramallah in 1980, the army closed a gallery run by three artists because they showed political art and work in the colors of the Palestinian flag – red, green, black and white.

Later all three were called by an Israeli officer. According to artist and exhibition organizer Sleiman Mansour, an Israeli official told him, “It is forbidden to organize an exhibition without the permission of the army and secondly, it is also forbidden to paint in the colors of the Palestinian flag.” Mansour told The Associated Press last week that the officer cited the watermelon as an example of art that would violate Army regulations.

People started waving fruits in public in protest.

Jerusalem-born writer Mahdi Sabbagh said, “There are stories of young people who walked the streets with pieces of fruit, risking arrest from Israeli soldiers.” wrote, “When I see watermelons, I think of the unbreakable spirit of our people.”

From the mid-90s, when Israelis and Palestinians reached an interim peace agreement, until the current nationalist Israeli government took power a year ago, raising the Palestinian flag became a major issue. Three decades later, “it again became a national symbol”, Mansour said.

A year ago, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir Palestinian flags banned In public places. This effort faced strong opposition. In response, Zazim, an activist group of Arab and Jewish Israelis, plastered taxis in Tel Aviv with large watermelon stickers that read: “This is not the Palestinian flag.”

“Our message to the government is clear,” the organization said in a written statement. “We will always find a way to circumvent any absurd restrictions and we will never stop fighting for freedom of expression and democracy – whether that involves the Pride flag or the Palestinian flag.”

For some, adopting the flag’s colors is essentially a striving for freedom and equality rather than statehood.

“I never cared about flags or nationalism,” says Maysoun Sukarieh, an expert in Middle Eastern studies at King’s College London. “But when it comes to Palestine, it is the flag of a colonized people who never saw independence. And because it has been banned, it has become more a symbol of resistance than nationalism.”

watermelon emoji

Watermelon has long been a staple of cuisine in this region, with some dishes such as Popular Salads In southern Gaza, originating from Bedouin Arab tribes.

Increasingly, youth activists have adopted the watermelon emoji while calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Emojis can confuse the algorithms that advocates say tech companies deploy to suppress posts containing keywords like “Gaza” and even just “Palestinian.”

“With the watermelon (emoji), I think it’s really the first time I’ve seen it widely used as a stand-in. And to me it marks a significant increase in censorship of Palestinian content,” says Jillian York, director of international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Berlin-based York has analyzed Meta’s policies. While “shadow bans” or limited visibility of certain posts may be difficult to understand, advocacy and nonprofit organizations studying digital rights in the Middle East say they have observed serious biases, particularly on meta platforms Facebook and Instagram. Have kept an eye on. Meta has not said much about this directly but has given a reference statement It was released in October.

“Censorship is somewhat apparent” on Instagram, York said. In mid-October, people started noticing If someone’s Instagram bio said “Palestinian” in English and “Praise God” in Arabic with a Palestinian flag emoji, the app translated the text to “Terrorist.” Meta issued a public apology.

Watermelons aren’t the only symbol of attraction among workers. Other signs of global Palestinian solidarity include keys, spoons, olives, doves, poppies and keffiyeh scarves. To connect with the peaceful message of Armistice Day in November, when many Britons traditionally wear red poppy pins, this year protesters handed out white poppy pins in memory of the victims of all wars. On the day of the holiday, scores of protesters marched across London wearing poppy pins to demand an end to the war in Gaza.

In the United States, jewish voice for peace The watermelon imagery was amplified in calls for a ceasefire in Gaza last month. The group held signs in New York taking advantage of the triangle symbol with the colors of the Palestinian flag and triangular watermelons. Act upHistorical AIDS activist group.

Jason Rosenberg, a member of both organizations, said, “Our reimagined image shows that our fight for liberation and the fight to end the pandemic are intrinsically linked to the Palestinian struggle.”

seed illustration

Another reason why watermelon is popular may be this: it contains seeds. There is a saying, often attributed to the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos, that is popular among activists: “They wanted to bury us; They didn’t know we were seeds.”

“You might be able to break a watermelon. You might be able to crush a fruit, but it’s a little harder to crush a seed,” says artist Shawn Escarciga, who designed the combine. “It’s really powerful that life can come out of something so small and so flexible – and it can be spread so easily.”

The image of the thick, triangular-seeded watermelon was placed in protest groups at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, and has since spread online. This happens often – art emerges from protest movements and then enters the mainstream.

“Artists have always been at the forefront of revolution, resistance, politics, at different levels,” says Escarciga. “We’re doing this, using this iconic imagery, because AIDS isn’t over – and the war clearly isn’t over either.”

Israeli air, ground and sea attacks on Gaza have killed more than 24,000 people, about 70% of whom are women and children. Ministry of Health in Hamas-ruled areas, The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Activists around the world continue to call for peace and a permanent ceasefire. Israel says ending the war now before crushing Hamas would give victory to the militants who attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage.

Escarciga said, “We’re seeing Palestinian flags being banned, even emojis being flagged online — and, you know, the word ‘Palestine’ being censored online. Is.” “But this image that’s beyond language, that’s beyond culture, that’s beyond algorithms — can really reach people.”


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