Watermelon season is over, but the emoji is currently in wide use as a symbol of resistance and solidarity for those supporting the Palestinian people.
According to The Washington Post, the red, green, white, and black Palestinian flag has been historically banned in several areas — including Israel — thus, the watermelon with similar colors has stood as a stand-in for those who wish to show their support but cannot depict the flag or its symbol.
“Today, watermelons have evolved into a public symbol of resistance and cultural pride, portrayed in artworks that represent the ongoing struggle against the apartheid,” artist Dai Ali told The Messenger.
The symbolism can be traced back to the 1960s, first reportedly emerging after the Six-Day War, when Israel seized control of the West Bank and Gaza, and annexed East Jerusalem, TIME Magazine reported.
During this time, public displays of the Palestinian flag were a criminal offense in Gaza and the West Bank.
The colors of the watermelon and its use in Middle Eastern cuisine made it an iconic symbol for Palestine. According to Bon Appetite, research on the fruit shows it is indigenous to Northern Africa and was often used in religious tithes along with figs, grapes, and pomegranates.
Social media resurfaced the watermelon emoji trend on Facebook and Instagram in 2021 when grassroots Palestinian activism was at its peak online.
In an interview withThe National in 2021, artist Sliman Mansour shared that an exhibition featuring his work in 1980 was shut down because some pieces depicted the flag.
“They told us that painting the Palestinian flag was forbidden, but also the colors 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,’” Mansour told the outlet.
As people continued to learn of the ban and how it impacted Palestinians over the years, users posted emojis and other images using the watermelon to show their support for Palestinians in Israel and other occupied territories.
Art “can sometimes be more political than politics itself,” Khaled Hourani, a Palestinian artist based in Ramallah, in the West Bank, told The Post in 2021. He has made several pieces with the watermelon as the focus.
Palestinian artists use the watermelon “as a metaphor for the Palestinian flag and to circumvent the ban,” Hourani said.
In addition to showing solidarity, the fruit is also posted by many who are fearful of Israeli surveillance online or are trying to avoid unfavorable algorithms and content bans.
“You have a new Palestinian generation. Seventy percent are under the age of 30 [in the West Bank and Gaza], where social media and digital tools are their main source of inspiration and their main access to the world,” said Fadi Quran, a Ramallah-based campaign director at Avaaz.
He added: “People need to use social media to spread the word about what’s happening here, so that’s led to a broad range of tactics … to overcome digital suppression.”
Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms claim there is no censorship of pro-Palestinian content, but, users have expressed concerns about “shadow bans” or deleted content online when using the flag symbol or other Palestine-supporting terms.
According to TechCrunch, users have reported that Instagram has flagged and hidden comments containing the flag emoji as “potentially offensive.” Meta has attributed these instances to glitches, but similar reports were made in 2021, per The Washington Post.
As a result, the watermelon emoji is used again to share their content to avoid these reported bans.