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How Did Watermelon Become Associated with Palestinian Solidarity?

© Sputnik / Pavel Lisitsyn / Go to the mediabankWatermelon
Watermelon - Sputnik India, 1920, 29.11.2023
The mighty Watermelon – whether it is portrayed in artwork, shared on social media, or held in the hand – is a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Sputnik India explores the historical connection between the watermelon and Palestinians.
The watermelon is a symbol of resistance and persistence of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
The fruit, whose colours reflect those of the Palestinian flag, is visible from Gaza's stone walls to Ramallah's galleries, offering a glimpse into the political background of the beloved summer fruit.
The Palestinian watermelon has evolved over the years into a visible symbol of cultural pride in works of art that depict the resistance to Israel.
A new tradition is now forming on the Internet that unites Palestinians across the globe and takes inspiration from late 20th century activists for freedom of speech. Younger generations of artists have been bringing their story – cleverly encapsulated in the minimalist silkscreen of a watermelon – back to life since the protests that were sparked by Israeli violence in Sheikh Jarrah.

Connection Between Watermelon & Palestinian Resistance

Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli government outlawed the public display of the Palestinian flag and its colours. Any public display of the flag, including publications, ads, and even old photos, could lead to jail time or worse.
With its red, green, black, and white colouring, the watermelon has evolved into a subdued way for the Palestinians to show their pride in their country. Protests have even extended to holding a slice of fresh watermelon outside.

Israeli forces demolished a significant art gallery in Ramallah in the 1980s and took three artists into custody – Nabil Anani, Sliman Mansour, and Isam Bader – for incorporating the colours of the Palestinian flag in their works.

© AP Photo / Kin CheungA man waves a Palestinian flag during a pro Palestinian demonstration in London, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in support of Palestinians caught up in the war between Israel and Hamas.
A man waves a Palestinian flag during a pro Palestinian demonstration in London, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in support of Palestinians caught up in the war between Israel and Hamas. - Sputnik India, 1920, 29.11.2023
A man waves a Palestinian flag during a pro Palestinian demonstration in London, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in support of Palestinians caught up in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Mansour, one of the artists, described to the press how an Israeli police chief attempted to pay them off to depoliticise their work.

“He was trying to convince us not to do any political art, saying to us, ‘Why do you do political art? Why don’t you paint nice flowers or a nude figure? It’s nice. I will even buy from you'”, Mansour said.

The Israeli police chief, according to Mansour, subsequently gave the artists instructions to label each painting as either good or bad and to submit it to the IDF for approval prior to the exhibition. The latter would seize anything that fits into that category.

"Even if you do a watermelon, it will be confiscated", the officer yelled, according to Mansour. "Therefore, the officer had the original idea for the watermelon, not us", Mansour said.

Incorporation of Watermelon in Palestinian Flag

Palestine was known throughout the world for producing delicious watermelons before the "Nakba" ("Disaster") in 1948, especially in Jenin, the Jordan Valley, and Arabet Al-Batouf.

However, the authorities introduced their own seed companies and flooded the market, driving out Palestinian competition as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) began occupying Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Palestinian watermelons are still a popular export to Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, and farmers and agriculturalists continue to comment on their impressive size.

Palestinians claimed to distinguish the difference between watermelons grown in Israeli greenhouses and those grown locally; they would save the former to eat, and throw the latter at IDF tanks.

© AFP 2023 Mohammed AbedA Palestinian farmer catches a watermelon
Сбор урожая арбузов в Beit Lahia - Sputnik India, 1920, 29.11.2023
A Palestinian farmer catches a watermelon

Palestinian Supporters Express Solidarity Through Art

The extreme censorship on some Western social media platforms combined with a renewed appreciation for Palestinian art history has encouraged artists to share their own interpretations on social media.
These days, Palestinian watermelons are often considered on t-shirts, banners, paintings, murals, and graphic designs.

Digital artist Gaytor Al located a newspaper article from May 1984 detailing the persecution of Gaza artist Fathi Ghabin, whose nephew Suhain, aged seven, was shot and killed by IDF soldiers. Suhain's bleeding corpse was depicted by Ghabin on the ground, encircled by Palestinian demonstrators holding up their arms. Ghabin was found guilty of "inciting material" merely by virtue of the flag's colour scheme.

Palestinian art history is largely unknown outside of Palestine, and the IDF persists in attacking Palestinian artists and prohibiting flag displays in Gaza.
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