Why Did Israeli Soldiers Hand Out Cucumber Seeds to Palestinians at a Checkpoint?

The IDF handed out cucumber seeds as a message of hope, but the fact they were from a Jewish settlement made it hard for Palestinians to see it as a friendly gesture.

A seed packet handed out by an IDF officer and soldiers at the Qalandiyah crossing in the West Bank on January 13, 2016. The message was a pointed pun: "The cucumber [in Arabic, hiyar] and the choice [in Arabic, akhtiyar] are in your hands."
Tamar Fleishman

An unusual sight greeted Palestinians crossing through the Qalandiyah checkpoint near Jerusalem last Wednesday. An Israel Defense Forces officer and a number of soldiers were handing out small packets containing cucumber seeds. On one side of the bag was a picture of cucumbers and information about the producer, and on the other, in Arabic, a message with a pointed pun: “To residents of the West Bank. The cucumber [in Arabic, hiyar] and the choice [in Arabic, akhtiyar] are in your hands. Remove the knives and destruction from your land, and plant home and building instead.”

“Do you think I’m going to plant this on my land?” asked one Palestinian who received the seeds, adding, “the officer gave it to us and explained what he meant but after we went through the checkpoint we talked among ourselves and figured it probably they are carrying viruses. How can you depend on the Israeli army, who shoots us, when it gives us this?”

Another Palestinian, from Jerusalem, said: “The officer heard that I’m from Jerusalem and said they don’t hand them out to us, only to West Bank people. He told me that all the Palestinians from Jerusalem are terrorists with knives.”

Some of the Palestinians noticed that the seeds came from the Jewish settlement of Avnei Hefetz. About that, one commented: “The Israelis have no shame. They give us seeds of poor cucumbers that Jews grow on our land. Better they should plant our fakus instead of this garbage from a settlement,” he said, referring to a cucumber-like vegetable that is also called a “Palestinian cucumber.”

The owner of the seed-production company, Haim Weizman, declined to respond to Haaretz’s query as to who had ordered the packets from him.

“I maintain the confidentiality of my clients,” he said, adding: “A guy came and bought the seeds. He’s not a regular customer. I didn’t know that’s what he bought them for. If I had known, I would have given part for free. I’m for peace.”

Tamar Fleishman, a peace activist who has visited this crossing at the refugee camp several times to document friction between the army and the local population, spoke with a number of Palestinians who were given the seeds.

“There is something very cynical and insulting about this hand-out," she said. "It’s deceptive propaganda. The producer of the seeds is a settler who lives on Palestinian land. Besides, this isn’t even the season for planting cucumbers. And the Palestinians told me there’s a sexual connotation to the cucumbers.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that the events of the past few months had prompted the Civil Administration to distribute the seeds to Palestinians in keeping with the Arabic proverb “sow hope not destruction.” As for the claim that they come from Avnei Hefetz, the administration said it “ordered the seeds from a nursery in northern Israel and is not involved in the source from which the nursery ordered these seeds.”