The Woman Working to Combat Palestinian Food Insecurity, Seed by Seed

Despite uncertainty and limited access to resources, Vivien Sansour has created a movement to sustain food and preserve culture

Preeti Simran Sethi
ZORA

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Vivien Sansour at the Chicago Biennial. Photo: Mike Nourse

VVivien Sansour spent six years searching for watermelon seeds. These weren’t ordinary seeds, but ones that grow a succulent fruit once abundant in Jenin, a 4,000-year-old city referenced in the Bible as the Plain of Esdraelon. Seeds that, after decades of strife between the states of Israel and Palestine — the roughly 2,400 square miles of land divided into the West Bank and Gaza Strip — had nearly disappeared.

“The Jadu’I watermelon is an incredible source of life,” Sansour, a conservationist and documentarian raised in Beit Jala, a small town near Bethlehem, explains. “People described to me how they had hidden in the dense watermelon fields during the war — and later gave birth in those same fields.”

The vines offered up melons that fueled the local economy. Sweet, juicy fruits that — prior to the 1948 partition of Palestine and the establishment of Israel — were exported by the truckload to Syria and Turkey. The villagers Sansour interviewed for her research on rural agriculture called the melons “dinosaurs.” But, she says, they did so “with longing in their…

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Preeti Simran Sethi
ZORA
Writer for

Writer, teacher, and student focused on South Asian mental health & psychedelics. Founder, Asian Psychedelic Collective + Fellow, UC Berkeley & Carter Center