Sunday, April 07, 2024

  • Sunday, April 07, 2024
  • Elder of Ziyon
The New York Times reported in 1993, in the initial heady days of the Oslo agreement, that "In the Gaza Strip, ...young men were once arrested for carrying sliced watermelons -- thus displaying the red, black and green Palestinian colors." 

The story received some attention, since it was the first time anyone had heard of it. But Israel duly spent weeks checking the allegation and found no basis for it. An Israeli government press office spokesperson wrote a letter to the NYT saying, " Having investigated the matter with the proper authorities, I can state that such arrests have never been official Israeli policy. If such an isolated and unsanctioned act did occur, no individual was ever prosecuted under such innocent circumstances. As part of the confidence-building measures taken by Israel, a large number of Palestinian prisoners are now being released; none of them were put behind bars for carrying fruit."

How did the watermelon become associated with Palestinians?

The National tried to find the origins in 2021:

Another story involves artists Sliman Mansour, Nabil Anani and Issam Badr, whose exhibition at 79 Gallery in 1980 was shut down by the Israeli army as the artworks were deemed political and bore the Palestinian flag and its colours. Confronting the officer, Badr asked, “What if I just want to paint a watermelon?”, to which he replied, “It would be confiscated”.

Mansour, now in his seventies and living in Birzeit, remembers the incident, but clarified a few details for The National. He recalls that the exhibition in 79 Gallery was open for only three hours before soldiers cleared out the space and locked it up. Two weeks later, Israeli officers summoned the three artists, warning them to stop producing political paintings, and perhaps paint flowers instead.

“They told us that painting the Palestinian flag was forbidden, but also the colours were forbidden. So Issam said, ‘What if I were to make a flower of red, green, black and white?’, to which the officer replied angrily, ‘It will be confiscated. Even if you paint a watermelon, it will be confiscated.’ So the watermelon was mentioned, but by the Israeli officer,” Mansour explains.

He does not recall artists during this period using the watermelon as a political motif in their work.
It seems odd that both artists who were there at the time remember the events so differently.

The earliest I can find any Palestinian using that symbol was from the same Mansour, who painted "Watermelon Boy" in 1987:

But the earliest recorded association between Palestinian Arabs and watermelons comes not from Palestinians themselves, but from a satirical section of a left-leaning Israeli newspaper making fun of Israel's anti-PLO flag policy.

Chadashot ("News") was an Israeli newspaper that first published on March 4, 1984 by the Haaretz Group. It had a satirical section using the pun Chashadot ("Suspicions").

On June 26, 1984, Chashadot published a story about an Arab watermelon seller "Mahmoud Al-Batikh" (which means watermelon in Arabic) who was sentenced to five years in prison for selling items in the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Moreover, the joke went on, his sign said that the watermelon slices would be sold freshly cut "on the knife" which was considered incitement to terror. 

The earliest known association between watermelons and Palestinian Arabs comes from...Jews.

There is one earlier association, though - but with Palestinian Jews.

David Ben Gurion did not want Zionists to be a colonial-type power that exploits the  local population for low-paying jobs. He developed the concept of "Hebrew Labor" where Jews would be the ones doing all the blue collar work. In fact, he said years later that the kibbutz movement was not motivated by any kind of socialist philosophy but to attract Jews to do the kind of farm work that they rarely had the opportunity to do, since they were proscribed from owning land in most of the world.

Later, in the 1930s, Jewish farmers found themselves in competition with not only Arab farmers but also from imports. Zionists were urged to support the local Jewish producers to allow them to stay in business, and this became especially important when Arasb started boycotting Jewish businesses.  This poster, circa 1930,  urges Zionists to buy "Hebrew watermelons" with a symbol certifying that they were grown by local Jews. 

There were similar campaigns to buy Hebrew cheese, butter, bananas, chickens, and fish. 

Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

Read all about it here!




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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 19 years and 40,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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