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At Cannes, Kani Kusruti shows solidarity with Palestine

By News Desk

May 24, 2024 09:49 PM


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Actor Kani Kusruti posed with a watermelon clutch at the Cannes Film Festival, during the screening of her highly acclaimed ‘All We Imagine As Light’, showing solidarity with Palestine, media reports said.

Amidst Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, this is being viewed as an expression of solidarity with Palestinians, with the humble watermelon long considered a symbol of their struggle, reports Indian media.  A watermelon when sliced shows the colours of the Palestinian flag — red, green, black, and white. This makes it a useful symbol of Palestinian identity, especially since carrying and displaying the Palestinian flag has often been barred by Israeli authorities. On social media too the watermelon emoji has gained currency, with many claiming that posts with more overt Palestinian symbols are restricted by the US-headquartered tech platforms. 

 
 
 
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Palestine has been on the boil since last year, even before the October 7 Hamas attack that triggered the bloodbath in Gaza by Israel. In January 2023, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir claimed he had instructed the police to tear down any Palestinian flags flown publicly, after a terror convict waved the flag after his release from prison, The Times of Israel reported.

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Flowing the Palestinian flag is not legally banned in Israel, but the police often crack down, claiming the flag could “disturb peace”. As the arrests continued, in June, an organisation called Zazim began adding images of sliced watermelons on taxis plying in Tel Aviv, with the accompanying text reading “This is not a Palestinian flag”.

Another prominent example is the work of Palestinian artist Khaled Hourani, who in 2007 painted a slice of watermelon for the Subjective Atlas of Palestine project. His work received wide viewership, and served to strongly associate the watermelon with the Palestinian cause.

It is somewhat unclear, however, how the watermelon first came to be used in protests. While many Western media organisations have reported it being a prominent symbol of resistance during the First Intifada (1987-1993), Arab news websites and blogs trace its use to a later time.

The First Intifada was against Israel’s occupation of West Bank and Gaza since 1967, and the criminalisation of the display of Palestinian flags. In this context, it is possible that the symbol of a sliced watermelon might have seen usage during this time.

However, Abu Dhabi-based The National reported in 2020 that “The story has become a bit of a contemporary myth, proliferated recently on social media, with its true origins buried in various retellings and reposts.”

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Decolonize Palestine, a website claimed to be run by two Palestinians living in Ramallah, says, “There is no mention at all of this practice in the literature of the First Intifada [in English and Arabic]. There are references to people using the watermelon as an example of the banned colour combination… but none of the widespread use of watermelon slices as a political statement or as a substitute for the Palestinian flag.”

Those who trace the watermelon symbol to the First Intifada rely heavily on two sources — a 1993 report from The New York Times, and a story involving artists Sliman Mansour, Nabil Anani and Issam Badr. As The National reported, an exhibition by the artists 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”.”

The NYT article, written after Israel and Palestine recognised each other as part of the Oslo Accords, said, “In the Gaza Strip, where young men were once arrested for carrying sliced watermelons — thus displaying the red, black and green Palestinian colors — soldiers stand by, blasé, as processions march by waving the once-banned flag.” However, the director of the Government Press Office Jerusalem wrote to the newspaper, 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.” This detail seems to have been later retracted by The NYT


News Desk


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