The phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” has been declared antisemitic by supporters of Israel. It’s been claimed that the phrase calls for the eradication of the state of Israel.

A few things I’ve learned from the Wikipedia article on this subject:

  • The phrase was popularised in the 1960s as part of a wider call for Palestinian liberation creating a democratic state freeing Palestinians from living under Israel.

  • Palestinian progressives use the phrase to call for a united democracy over the whole territory while others say “it’s a call for peace and equality after … decades-long, open-ended Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians.”

  • Islamist militant faction Hamas used the phrase in its 2017 charter. The slogan’s use by such Palestinian militant groups has led critics to argue that the slogan implicitly advocates for the dismantling of Israel, and a call for the removal or extermination of the Jewish population of the region.

  • The phrase has also been used by Israeli politicians. The 1977 election manifesto of the right-wing Israeli Likud party said: “Between the sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”

Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian in the US Congress, was formally censured for using the phrase on social media. Here’s how she defines it:


So which is it, antisemitic slur or rallying cry?

Words and phrases can be interpreted differently by different people. In fact, only a few days ago, the phrase was used by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu, who publicly stated “The State of Israel has to control the entire area from the river to the sea.”

Here’s what the phrase means to me:

In their original homeland, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, there will be no place where Palestinians will be subjugated, disenfranchised, and denied their basic human rights.

In the past, I’ve hesitated to use the phrase, out of respect for the sensitivity of people who interpret it differently than me. But now that Israel is attempting to exterminate the Palestinians in Gaza, I’m no longer remaining silent. I stand for Palestinian liberation. If you feel similarly, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your voice is needed.

From the river to the sea