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How the mighty watermelon became a symbol of pro-Palestinian resistance on social media

Lakshmi Varanasi   

How the mighty watermelon became a symbol of pro-Palestinian resistance on social media
  • Some social media users say tech platforms are unfairly removing pro-Palestinian content.
  • Images of watermelons have become code for pro-Palestinian activism on Instagram and TikTok.

As social media platforms double down on their content moderation policies to control the flood of misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war, some users claim these platforms are also censoring innocent pro-Palestinian content, including comments and accounts that feature the Palestinian flag.

Instagram users, for example, reported that the platform was hiding comments containing the Palestinian flag emoji and automatically inserting the word "terrorist" into translations of certain profiles that contained the emoji, according to a report from Palestinian digital rights nonprofit 7amleh.

Instagram's parent company, Meta, did not immediately respond to Insider's request for a comment, but a Meta spokesperson told The Intercept that the company had no policies specific to the Palestinian flag emoji, and was hiding comments that contained the emoji in certain "offensive" contexts that violated its rules.

As a result, social media users — across major platforms from Instagram to TikTok — are resorting to using watermelons in place of the Palestinian flag or as a stand-in for words like "Palestine" or "Gaza" to express solidarity with Palestinians and thwart what they say is unreasonable moderation.

Creators are even using images of watermelons to mobilize aid for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where almost 11,000 people have been killed in Israel's offensive, launched after the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 killed about 1,200 Israelis.

Augmented reality artist Jourdan Louise Johnson last week released "Filter for Good I," a TikTok filter featuring an image of a watermelon that users can trace with their fingers across the screen. Johnson created the filter through TikTok's Effect Creator Rewards — a program allowing creators to monetize their effects — and said she'll donate proceeds to charities providing aid in Gaza.

@xojourdanlouise USE THIS FILTER to help the people of Gaza. As an AR creator, I am part of the Effect Creator Rewards program - basically like the creativity fund but for effect creators. This allows me to earn money for each unique video published using my effects*. I have created this FILTER FOR GOOD effect and will be donating the rewards earned to charities providing aid in Gaza. I know many of us don’t know how to help, but it can be as simple as posting a video with this filter! *Effects only can start earning rewards once 200,000 people have posted a video using it, so we need 199,999 more — which seems like a lot but it can easily be achieved! Please comments, save, and share to boost and encourage everyone to use this filter #newfilter #effecthouse #watermelon #free #blackgirlsintech #activism #augmentedreality #socialchange #filterforgood ♬ original sound - nemahsis

It has now been used in almost 4 million posts on TikTok and has brought in $7,100 so far, Johnson told Insider in direct message on TikTok.

How watermelons became a symbol of Palestinian resistance

Watermelons seem to have emerged as a symbol of Palestinian resistance after the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel seized control of the West Bank and Gaza and banned the public display of the Palestinian flag in those territories.

Watermelons are widely cultivated in Gaza and the West Bank, but it's the fruit's colors that seem to have inspired it as code for Palestinian resistance. Watermelons have the same colors as the Palestinian flag: red, green, and black.

Some historical accounts say that Palestinians took to slicing fresh watermelon to skirt the ban on the Palestinian flag. In periods of "heightened tension," Palestinians would leave watermelon slices on windowsills or carry them through the streets, according to the Times of Malta.

When, in the 1990s, the Oslo Accords — a series of interim peace agreements that resulted in limited self-governance for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza — were signed, Israel lifted the ban on the Palestinian flag.

The fruit resurfaced as a prominent symbol of resistance during the Second Intifada — a major Palestinian uprising against Israel that occurred between 2000 and 2005 — when "young militants sliced watermelons in half and waved them around," according to The Age.

Palestinian artists have also adopted the watermelon in their work. The Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour, now in his late seventies, said he first got the idea to paint watermelons from an Israeli officer who had warned him to stop creating artwork with the Palestinian flag.

"'Even if you paint a watermelon, it will be confiscated," the officer reportedly told Mansour, according to The National.

Years later, when the artist Khaled Hourani heard this story, he created a design for a "Watermelon Flag" for the Subjective Atlas of Palestine in 2007.

The image has since served as an inspiration for artists across social media.

@azizainxr F r e e P a l e s t i n e These watermelons are created using my custom AI that I personally trained on my own images of suzani embroidery. #suzaniembroidery #suzani #embroideryornaments #freepalestine❤️ #freepalestine ♬ Brutus (Instrumental) - The Buttress

The watermelon emoji, meanwhile, gained traction as a symbol of protest on social media in 2021 after another outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas. At the time, pro-Palestinian activists said social media platforms were restricting pro-Palestinian content and deleting accounts.

An independent investigation by Human Rights Watch found that Facebook had wrongfully removed or censored numerous posts. Some activists staged a coordinated effort to drop Facebook's ratings for censoring hashtags like #FreePalestine or #GazaUnderAttack.

The watermelon is not the only workaround to social media algorithms that have surfaced over the past few weeks. Social media users have also resorted to alternative spellings of words like "Palestinians" (like shifting it to P@lestinians or P*les+in1ans) to evade algorithmic detection.

TikTok did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.