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A chant at many pro-Palestinian rallies is "From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free."

Many claim this is a call for wiping out the current Jewish population of Israel residing between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Which would be a Holocaust-level genocide. The American Jewish Congress says:

“From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” is a common call-to-arms for pro-Palestinian activists, especially student activists on college campuses. It calls for the establishment of a State of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing the State of Israel and its people (emphasis mine).

Senator Rashida Tlaib (D. Michigan) denies this and says it's only

an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence.

What any single protester means with the chant is arguably up to them. But is there any hard data on the original definition of this phrase and what it meant when composed? Or is there any polling showing what most chanters have in mind when they say it?

Put another way: When someone at a protest feels like shouting this phrase, can we point to anything telling them "better not, this will likely be understood as a genocidal statement?"

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    Does it matter what the original intent is? I don't think it matters today that "Colored" used to be the polite way to say not white in the south.
    – CJR
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 18:39
  • @CJR: In this case original intent is a window to what many chanting it still mean. We're still only a few decades out from the founding of the modern State of Israel.
    – YouDontSay
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 18:55
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    The claim is it is a call for genocide, which goes to the motivations of the individuals chanting it, not that it originally was a call for genocide. Meanings change. Arguing otherwise is an etymological fallacy. Closing as a matter of opinion.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 21:29
  • @Oddthinking by this logic would chanting 'sig heil' (just as an example) also be a matter of motivation?
    – pinegulf
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 10:22
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    "How could anyone know their (true) motivation?" They can't. Which is why the question is closed. The situation here is: People are chanting. Some people are hearing a call for genocide. Some people are claiming that is not what they mean. What's left to answer with empirical evidence?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 1:32

2 Answers 2

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The phrase or similar ones is/was used in various ways to assert somewhat underdetermined notion of freedom or even of total ownership; NPR:

"Probably it is true that most American college students, for example, who chant 'from the river to the sea' do not mean to evoke this idea of ethnic cleansing, do not mean to call for the erasure of Israel or the destruction of all Jews in that land," said Julie Rayman, managing director of policy and political affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

"But unfortunately they are echoing that exact trope," she added. [...]

In fact, a lot depends on context. The Likud Party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in its original party platform in 1977 that "between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty."

Although more recently it seems it's been used more by Hamas than by Likud e.g.:

“Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north,” Khaled Mashaal, the group’s former leader, said that year in a speech in Gaza celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas. “There will be no concession on any inch of the land.”

Something like Pepe the Frog, I guess.

And legal-political opinion on it also appears somewhat divided:

Berlin’s government has criminalized the slogan, alongside “Death to the Jews,” Israel’s i24 News reported. [...]

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a letter to police officials that they should consider whether the slogan “should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated section 5 public order offence,” the Guardian reported. Braverman was replaced following uproar over her comments, which included an accusation that British police were too sympathetic toward pro-Palestinian supporters.

Last month, a Dutch court ruled that “from the river to the sea” was protected speech, after an activist had been reported to the police for inciting violence against Jews after he uttered the slogan at a protest this summer, before the current war. The judge ruled that the phrase related to the state of Israel and not Jewish people more broadly, according to the European Legal Support Center, which assisted the defendant.

FWTW, a similar expression has been used at least once by B'Tselem, but they don't mean to assert ownership, but rather complain about lack of freedoms:

“It is one regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid,” the group’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, said in a statement.

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  • Not using any words like that, but showing a map like that did happen more recently in the Likud camp... As I re-read that now, I see that Palestinian Ambassador to Germany, Arafeh used the expression in his criticism/rebuttal of the Netanyahu UN map. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 20:48
  • And Shlomo Kari went back to Likud's roots recently saying "there will be no Palestinian state here. We will never allow another state to be established between the Jordan [river] and the sea. We will never go back to Oslo." Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 18:45
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Each person has a different idea in their heart when they say this.

One of the first mentions of this slogan is in the 1970 Arab Yearbook, explaining the reason for rejecting a draft Soviet proposal:

The Arab delegation noticed that the Soviet side had included in the draft a reference to the Security Council resolution November 22 , 1967. The head of the delegation suddenly said: "We cannot put our signature to any statement containing reference to the Security Council resolution." Asked why, he replied: "Because we are determined on war. There must be war for liberation of the land from the river to the sea."

The December 1971 New Middle East says:

The slogan, "From the River to the Sea" , which entailed the elimination of "the Zionist structure", would have required not only the defeat of Israel's military might but also the Great Powers and the United Nations, since even the Soviet Union recognises Jewish sovereignty in part of Palestine.

As explained in the 1998 congressional hearing Foreign Terrorists in America: Five Years After the World Trade:

One extraordinary IAP [Islamic Association of Palestine] conference attended by 1,200 people was held in Kansas City in December 1989. A videotape, made by the IAP, captured the highlights of the conference which featured the core of militant Islamist leaders. Behind a long table at the head of a large auditorium was a 30-foot sign with the Arabic words "Palestine is Islamic from the River to the Sea" superimposed over a blood red map of Israel.[note 31] The highlight of the conference was the appearance of a veiled Hamas commander. As he rose to his place, a Hamas flag in one hand and a Qur'an in the other, the crowd roared, "Allahu Akbar"

The Hamas commander went on to describe murders of Jews within the 1948 boundaries of Israel. The American crowd chanted "Allahu Akbar" after each description of killing Jews.

(see also this video of the December 1989 Kansas City event especially starting around 4:30)

So for over 50 years this phrase has been closely connected to genocide of Jews.

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  • > "So for over 50 years this phrase has been closely connected to genocide of Jews". Your answer has no provided examples of Genocide. Liberation wars, ethnic cleansing, mass-murder are not genocide.
    – Ona
    Commented Feb 24 at 0:42

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