Watermelons are making waves on Palestinian Instagram feeds, and there's a reason.
If you follow any Palestinians on Instagram, you’ve surely seen watermelons on your feed since social media has provided a space for increased awareness for the Palestinian cause. You might be confused about what it means, so here’s an explanation about why watermelons are a symbol of political protest for Palestinians.
In 1967, after the six-day war, Israel issued an order that forbids Palestinians from holding, raising, or exhibiting any flags or political emblems, as well as creating any art or documents that contain political significance. It even prohibited Palestinian artists from using the colors of their flag: white, black, red, and green. Palestinians began carrying watermelon slices through the region as a sign of protest.
Contrary to the belief that it disappeared after the Oslo Accords when the Palestinian Authority nullified all Israeli military orders in its territory, Israel actually never revoked the law and continues to enforce it, even in areas over which the PA has control. During the 2021 Palestinian uprisings, the watermelon flag has been produced as an effective alternative flag, to wave until the occupation ends. In this video, renowned Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour explains the story of the origins of the symbol.
As the story went, when Mansour and other artists were told that even the colors of the flag were forbidden, Issam Badr asked an Israeli officer what would happen if he were to paint a flower in red, green, black, and white, to which the officer replied “It will be confiscated. Even if you paint a watermelon, it will be confiscated.” Mansour explained that ironically, the idea of painting watermelons actually came from an Israeli officer.
Artists like Khaled Hourani took inspiration from Mansour’s story, and began painting watermelons as a sign of resistance. His depiction of the watermelon became rather iconic, since he painted a slice of watermelon for the Subjective Atlas of Palestine project in 2007.
In an interview with The National, art historian Salwa Mikdadi explained that the targeting of artists and cultural spaces is a tactic used by occupying forces to erase identity. “Clearly they wanted to dehumanize the Palestinians, make them a people without a culture, without a past. It is a rich culture that goes back centuries. So for them, culture is a very dangerous tool in the hands of Palestinians. It’s a medium that has proved to be much more successful than politicians in how they affect change from the audiences around the world.”