From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.
From river to sea, Palestine will be free.
The phrase has echoed around the world in pro-Palestine demonstrations. The slogan was also sung last weekend in Helsinki.
Chairman of the Jewish Congregation of Finland Yaron Nadbornik too according to the view, the phrase incites violence.
– [Lause] means that the world’s only Jewish state would have no place to exist and that would result in genocide of civilians in Israeli territory, Nadbornik said on Wednesday in Ylen Ykkösaamu.
Active in the Finnish Palestinian Settlement Association and one of the organizers of the weekend demonstration Sadek Elwan refutes claims that the phrase refers to the removal of Jews from the area.
Also a researcher at the Finnish Middle East Institute Foundation Antti Tarvainen says that the slogan is not mainly used for anti-Semitic purposes.
In Tarvainen’s opinion, the discussion around the phrase is one example of how it is not understood that terms like Israel and Palestine have many simultaneous histories and meanings.
– People decide in advance what someone else means, for example, what this slogan means, says Tarvainen.
So what does the phrase refer to? In this article, we will go through the four meanings given to it.
1. Promotion of one democratic state
When the State of Israel was established in 1948 in the British Mandate of Palestine, approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes.
As a result of the Six Day War in 1967, the area controlled by Israel expanded even further. Israel began occupying Palestinian territories in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Around the same time, the Palestinian resistance movement started using the slogan “from the river to the sea”. At that time, according to Middle East researcher Antti Tarvainen, the phrase specifically referred to the Palestinian refugee problem and the desire to return to the lands lost in 1948.
The resistance movement began to seek a secular, democratic state where Jews, Muslims and Christians could live as equal citizens.
According to Tarvainen, the phrase “from the river to the sea” often refers to the democratic establishment of one state in the region.
Active in the Finnish Palestinian Settlement Association Sadek Elwan says that in the demonstrations organized by the association, the slogan refers to this one-state model.
– The cry refers to that one common state where everyone would have the same rights, regardless of religion or mother tongue, says Elwan.
In addition, according to Tarvainen, the phrase can also refer to the two-state model supported by the international community, where there would be two independent states in the region: Israel and Palestine.
2. Opposition to Israel’s apartheid policy
Another use of the phrase is to make visible the conditions of Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. The Finnish Palestinian Settlement Association says it uses the phrase for this purpose as well.
– In the solidarity movement, it is mainly used to make apartheid, i.e. racial supremacy and the unequal policy towards Palestine visible, researcher Antti Tarvainen says.
For example, Israel has established settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In these areas, Palestinians are evicted from their homes and the buildings they own are demolished. The movement of Palestinians is also restricted.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch as well as UN special representatives have stated that Israel is guilty of apartheid, i.e. legalized racial oppression against the Palestinians.
3. Anti-Semitic uses
According to Tarvainen, in some of the rhetoric of political Islam and violent resistance, the phrase is used as part of a broader anti-Semitic rhetoric, where the entire Jewish belonging to the region is denied.
– That rhetoric doesn’t really think about what the democratic position of the Jews would be in the region, says Tarvainen.
For example, in the 2017 reformed constitution of Hamas, which governs Gaza, it is stated that the organization rejects all options for the complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.
However, there is diversity in Hamas’s politics, says Tarvainen. The moderate members of the terrorist organization have indicated several times that they accept the two-state model, while the more radical members consider the destruction of the entire state of Israel to be their goal.
According to Tarvainen, anti-Semitic use can also be found within the Palestinian solidarity movement, although the solidarity movement has made it clear in its statements that there are no anti-Semitic features in the use of the phrase.
– But of course all movements can accommodate all kinds of extremist thinkers and people who use it in a purely racist way, says Tarvainen.
However, Tarvainen adds that accusations of anti-Semitism are also deliberately used to silence the Palestinians and divert attention away from the reality of occupation and apartheid.
4. The uses of the Israeli political right
The Israeli right-wing has also adopted the “from the river to the sea” slogan in its own rhetoric. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu In the Likud party’s 1977 constitutional manifesto, it is written that there will be Israeli sovereignty between the sea and Jordan.
According to Tarvainen, the phrase aims to justify the supremacy of Israeli Jews in the entire region.
– This is not only rhetoric, but also an active implemented policy, where supremacy is promoted from the river to the sea, as numerous human rights organizations have stated, says Tarvainen.
According to Tarviainen, a practical example of this is the maps published by the Israeli administration, which do not mention Palestine or Palestinian territories.