Symbols of Palestine

What the keffiyeh, the olive branch, Handala and the watermelon represent in terms of Palestinian identity and resistance.

In hundreds of cities worldwide, demonstrators have rallied in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, donning the emblematic black-and-white Palestinian headdress known as the keffiyeh.

Among them, demonstrators carry large keys, a cartoon portraying a child with their back turned, and even an image of a watermelon 🍉, each representing a different way of supporting the Palestinian cause.

In this infographic series, Al Jazeera showcases eight symbols that represent Palestinian identity and resistance to Israeli occupation.


[Al Jazeera]

A keffiyeh, also spelled kuffiya, is a square-shaped cotton headdress with a distinctive chequered pattern worn in many parts of the Arab world.

The black-and-white variant, worn by Palestinian men and women, has come to symbolise the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, justice and freedom.

  • The olive-leaves pattern represents perseverance, strength and resilience.
  • The fishnet pattern represents Palestinian fishers and the people's connection to the Mediterranean.
  • The bold pattern represents trade routes with neighbouring merchants of Palestine.

The garment, originally used to protect individuals across the Middle East against the sun, gained popularity during the Arab Revolt against British colonial rule in the 1930s.

The keffiyeh was also the personal trademark of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader. He would wear it folded in a triangle shape and draped over his shoulders, covering his head.

Today, the keffiyeh has been adopted globally by individuals, activists and organisations to support the Palestinian cause.

The olive branch

[Al Jazeera]

The olive tree has deep historical and cultural roots in Palestine, and its branches have been associated with peace and prosperity for centuries.

The hardy trees can handle drought, subzero temperatures, frost and even fire. They are symbolic of Palestinian resilience against Israeli occupation and their connection to the land.

Olive cultivation plays a crucial role in the Palestinian economy through olive oil, table olives and soap production.

About 80,000 to 100,000 Palestinian families rely on the olive harvest for their income, which takes place every year between October and November. Traditionally, the harvest season is a time of festivities and joy, but tight Israeli restrictions and settler attacks overshadow it.

According to the UN, more than 5,000 olive trees belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank were damaged in the first five months of 2023.

In 1974, Yasser Arafat, then the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), famously said in a speech addressed to the United Nations General Assembly:

“Today I come bearing an olive branch in one hand and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat, do not let the olive branch fall from my hand”.

Palestinian embroidery

[Al Jazeera]

The art of Palestinian embroidery, or tatreez, is a decorative needle and thread practice passed down through generations of Palestinian women.

Different regions in Palestine have developed their own unique styles of tatreez reflecting different aspects of Palestinian life and local experiences. Each pattern has distinct meanings or stories behind it and the patterns range from nature-inspired motifs, like trees, to geometric shapes.

The most common garment adorned with embroidery is the traditional thobe, a loose-fitting dress worn by Palestinian women. The dresses are usually made of linen, cotton, wool or silk, and are woven by hand or in large weaving centres. Red is the dominant hue in embroidery, varying by region and artist.

In 2021, UNESCO added traditional Palestinian embroidery to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

The Palestinian key

[Al Jazeera]

In 1948, Zionist military forces expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands in what became known as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic). Those people took their keys with them, sure they would return.

Many Palestinians still hold onto the keys to their original homes as a symbol of their hope and determination to return one day. These keys have been passed down several generations and are kept as a symbol of Palestinians’ right to return - a principle enshrined in international law that grants individuals the right go back to their homes of origin.

During Israel's latest offensive in Gaza, at least 1.5 million Palestinians have been driven out of their homes, double the number of those displaced during Nakba in 1948. For Palestinians, Nakba is not a discrete historical event. It is an ongoing process of displacement that has never stopped.

Historic Palestine map

[Al Jazeera]

The outline map of historic Palestine represents the geographical area associated with the region before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The map serves as a visual representation of Palestinian claims to their land and self-determination.

In 1948, Zionist military forces expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and captured 78 percent of historic Palestine. The remaining 22 percent was divided into what are now the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

There are 7 million registered Palestinian refugees living in camps located throughout Palestine and neighbouring countries. The plight of Palestinian refugees is the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world.

Necklaces shaped like the Palestinian map are crafted and worn, often featuring intricate details of the map's borders and cities. T-shirts and various items featuring the map of historic Palestine are used as expressions of solidarity with Palestine.

Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

[Al Jazeera]

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is located in Jerusalem, the contested capital at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 14-hectares (35-acres) compound contains the al-Qibli Mosque (grey dome) and the Dome of the Rock (golden dome) and holds profound religious, cultural and political significance for Palestinians.

Muslims believe that it is from Al-Aqsa where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during the Night Journey (Isra' and Mi'raj). As such, it's considered one of the holiest sites in Islam after the Kaaba in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.

The compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount.

The site is a recurrent flashpoint, with Israeli forces repeatedly conducting raids, closures and limitations on Muslim worshippers at the site.


[Al Jazeera]

Handala is a cartoon character created by Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali that reflects his own childhood refugee experience and the ongoing plight of Palestinians displaced by the Nakba.

The first version of the cartoon appeared in a Kuwaiti newspaper in 1969 and was drawn facing the viewer. However, in 1973 following the October War, al-Ali started drawing Handala with his back turned to reflect how the world had itself turned its back on the Palestinians.

Handala is barefoot and wears ragged clothes like the refugee camp children al-Ali remembers when he was forced to leave his village as a 10-year-old boy.

Handala is named after the “handhal”, a bitter fruit that grows in the dry areas of Palestine. It grows back when cut and has deep roots.

In 1987, Naji al-Ali was assassinated in London. No one has been charged with his murder.


[Al Jazeera]

The watermelon is perhaps the most iconic fruit to represent Palestine. Grown from Jenin to Gaza, the fruit shares the same colours as the Palestinian flag – red, green, white and black – so it is used to protest against Israel’s suppression of Palestinian flags and identity.

Following the 1967 war, when Israel seized control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem, the government banned the Palestinian flag in the occupied territory.

Although the flag has not always been banned by law, the watermelon caught on as a symbol of resistance. It appears in art, shirts, graffiti, posters and the ubiquitous watermelon emoji on social media.

In January 2023, the police were instructed to confiscate Palestinian flags from public places. This was followed in June by a bill to ban the flag in state-funded institutions.

In response, Zazim, a grassroots Arab-Israeli peace organisation, placed the Palestinian flag – in watermelon form – on about a dozen Tel Aviv service taxis.

In the current conflict, people have been using the watermelon emoji as a way to avoid getting “shadowbanned” on social media when posting about current events in Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera