The real reason ‘from the river to the sea’ has garnered so much condemnation

George Orwell once said: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

By most measures, Palestinians are considered a small minority in the Arab world, and so infinitely smaller worldwide. Therefore, it is quite mind-bending to see millions around the world turning out on a regular basis to express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle since Israel’s scorched-earth assault on Gaza began more than five months ago. Even the Western world, whose governments have been unguardedly condoning and abetting Israel’s genocidal mission against the Palestinian people, has not been immune to this massive international solidarity phenomenon. That there appears to be a serious chasm developing between main street and Western officialdom over this issue could no longer be easily denied or ignored. In fact, nowhere has this chasm been more amply reflected than in the U.S.  

On November 7, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the only Palestinian American in Congress, over her rhetoric about Israel’s brutal and indiscriminate bombing of Gaza. The House resolution passed with a final tally of 234-188 votes, earning the backing of most Republicans and 22 of Tlaib’s fellow Democrats. 

The vote to censure Tlaib did not come as a surprise since the three-term congresswoman had long been a target of criticism for her views on Israel’s roundly condemned violations of Palestinian human rights and her call for a “Free Palestine.” More specifically, her appearance at a rally under the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” was interpreted by her detractors as a clarion call for the destruction of the state of Israel and, as such, was deemed by some to be antisemitic.

Ironically, Benjamin Netanyahu’s son’s proclamation on his social media pages, “Israel from the River to the Sea,” has barely registered an objection, nor has Netanyahu’s own proclamations that Israel will remain in control of the West Bank and Gaza been denounced as a signal presaging the Palestinian people’s perpetual subjugation by Israel. In fact, both proclamations are perfectly in line with the 1977 Charter of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, which declared that “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”

Tlaib commented: “The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent. And it’s been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.” Speaking in her defense on the House floor, her fellow Jewish Democratic Congressman, Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD) stated: “This resolution not only degrades our Constitution, but it cheapens the meaning of discipline in this body for people who actually commit wrongful actions like bribery, fraud, violent assault and so on.” 

It should be noted that censure, considered to be one step below expulsion, is mostly viewed as a punishment of last resort to be employed only for the most portentous misconduct. Be that as it may, Tlaib has become the second Muslim-American woman in Congress to be so reproached for her criticism of Israel this year, following in the footsteps of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who was removed earlier from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over comments considered to be critical of Israel.  

The slogan that landed Rashida Tlaib into trouble, the phrase calling for freedom for Palestinians “from the river to the sea,” is the same one that earned Marc Lamont Hill his discharge as a commentator on CNN back in November 2018, although the network did not at the time expressly admit to it in quite so many words. Hill, an African-American professor of media studies at Temple University, tweeted after his firing: “My reference to ‘river to the sea’ was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza. The speech very clearly and specifically said those things.” He added: “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination…I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things.” 

Concurrently, quite contrary to Hill’s moral and principled position on Palestine, history will record the obsequious posture of most members of the Black Congressional Caucus who, except for a few conscientious brave souls, have been the epitome of sheer political opportunism on the matter of Israel’s decades-long military occupation and apartheid. Not surprisingly, it is those very courageous members of Congress (i.e., Jamaal Bowman, Summer Lee, Cori Bush) along with the rest of the so-called Squad, including Tlaib and Omar, who are now being targeted for defeat by AIPAC in the current election cycle.

Come to think of it, as matters can also be delineated by their contrast, the question arises, “what would be the logical alternative of a call for freedom for Palestinians from the river to the sea?” Is it the current prevailing situation of brutal Israeli occupation, inhumane siege, settler pogroms, land grabs, kidnappings and torture, targeted assassinations, and home demolitions, all wrapped up in a permanent state of suffocating apartheid? 

Indeed, not only is the U.S. government content with that; it, along with most Western countries, has been the primary enabler and backer of Israel politically, economically, and militarily, all while ignoring the unbearably inhumane conditions endured by the Palestinians under Israel’s oppressive military rule. If anything, the U.S. always seemed most perturbed whenever the Palestinians living under these insufferable conditions made the least effort to upend their crushing status quo, be it peacefully or otherwise. 

Considering the grim realities on the ground in Palestine and the lack of any relief on the horizon, a vexing hypothetical question comes to mind pertaining to what transpired on October 7 of last year: if black South Africans under apartheid had launched a violent attack on the exclusivist White apartheid regime, similar to the one launched by Hamas, would the U.S. and its Western allies have mobilized and instantly dispatched their armadas of multiple attack ships and aircraft carriers, to protect the South African white regime while simultaneously declaring the black South African perpetrators to be irredeemable terrorists? 

Despite needing no answer, this question nevertheless provides some food for thought as it sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between the West and Israel, with the latter functioning principally as the West’s foremost colonialist outpost in the all-important and oil-rich Middle East. 

To elaborate on the question, however, it may be helpful to mention that the African National Congress did not shy away from using violence against the Afrikaner apartheid regime — which, until the very end, maintained very close ties with Israel — a fact that resulted in the ANC being designated a terrorist group while earning Nelson Mandela the label of terrorist by the U.S. government. As a matter of fact, long after he became president on May 10, 1994, Mandela remained on a U.S. terrorism watch list until the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution removing the ANC from its terrorist roll in 2008. Following his release from his heroic 27-year imprisonment by the South African white regime, Mandela pointedly declared: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Having said that, the inescapable reality is that for so long, Israel has been given a pass on all its violations of Palestinian human rights and has been deemed a country above the law despite repeatedly exhibiting outright disdain for international conventions and humanitarian laws, not to mention its open disregard for multiple United Nations resolutions related to Palestine and Palestinian rights. As well as enjoying U.S. and Western political cover, Israel has been able to shield itself from criticism by unabashedly manipulating the memory of the Holocaust as it claimed to have the backing of Jews around the world.

On both claims, however, Israel today is being confronted head-on by myriads of Jews, especially those whose family members were victims of the Holocaust, who have been thoroughly appalled by Israel’s resort to the Holocaust to justify its atrocities against the Palestinian people. And it is becoming quite indisputable that Israel does not represent all Jews, nor does it enjoy blanket Jewish support and approval. If any proof of that were needed, just witness the ceaseless protests of thousands of Jews in the U.S. and Europe who have rallied recently for Palestinian freedom and against Israel’s ongoing slaughter in Gaza.

Furthermore, in its use of violence against Palestinians under occupation, Israel has invariably resorted to invoking its need for security. In this instance, however, it seems rather paradoxical that a state, which was founded on the Zionist premise and promise that it would be a safe haven for all Jews, just happens to be the most dangerous place for Jews to be in at all. In fact, since its founding, more Jews, by a wide margin, have been killed in Israel than anywhere else in the world. 

Ironically, if Israel felt so threatened by the civilian population under its decades-long ruthless occupation, why then has it consistently refused to admit an international peace-keeping force into the occupied territory whenever the hapless Palestinians under occupation appealed for one? The truth is that Israel has always chosen territorial expansion over security, hence rejecting countless peace efforts and UN resolutions offering it security in return for an end to its occupation.  

Now, looking at this from a different prism, one wonders if it is even feasible that Israel’s fear and insecurity may have something to do with its latent feeling of anxiety over its dispossession of the Palestinians and its perpetual denial of any wrongdoing against them? Were that to be the case, this may actually help to explain Israel’s insistence that the dispossessed Palestinians must recognize not only its existence, but rather its right to exist. That is why, after all these years of dodging reality, Israelis have yet to bring themselves to acknowledge their primary role in the original sin, Al-Nakba, which in 1948 ushered in the premeditated displacement and replacement of the indigenous Palestinian population by recent Jewish settlers. To be sure, not only is Israel still in serious denial of its previous dismemberment of Palestinian society, but it is attempting to effect a new rupture within it all over again right now in Gaza. 

Also, much like in the initial forced Palestinian exodus in 1948, the U.S. has teamed up once more with the same White European colonialist enforcers to facilitate the current unfolding catastrophe in occupied Palestine. And while Israel continues to carry out its genocidal war and its ethnic cleansing schemes both in Gaza and the West Bank, pro-Israel advocates are busily distracting the world by dredging up slogans, claiming that calling for freedom for Palestinians “from the river to the sea” is tantamount to a summons for the elimination of Jews in Israel.

So, at a time when well-meaning ordinary people and courageous public figures find themselves having to defend their humanity and integrity from such callous and malicious accusations, it is quite sobering to recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi in Harijan on November 26, 1938 in relation to the question of Palestine:

Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.


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