AJC explainer: From the river to the sea

Student demonstrators hold a rally for Palestine in support of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students on the Tech Green on the Georgia Tech campus, Wednesday, October 25, 2023, in Atlanta. One demonstrator is holding a sign that reads "From the river to the sea." The slogan is seen by some Jewish organizations as antisemitic while Palestinian rights activists say it's a call for liberation. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Student demonstrators hold a rally for Palestine in support of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students on the Tech Green on the Georgia Tech campus, Wednesday, October 25, 2023, in Atlanta. One demonstrator is holding a sign that reads "From the river to the sea." The slogan is seen by some Jewish organizations as antisemitic while Palestinian rights activists say it's a call for liberation. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, a decades-old slogan chanted at rallies by pro-Palestinian groups and posted in social media comments by supporters has drawn charges of antisemitism from Jewish organizations.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” or “Free Palestine from the river to the sea.”

The slogan has been chanted at some rallies in metro Atlanta in recent weeks.

Police in Vienna, Austria earlier this month banned a pro-Palestinian protest citing the slogan, Reuters reported. The city’s police chief said the slogan was a “clear call to violence” that has been adopted by Hamas, according to the news site.

Palestinian supporters say it’s a call for freedom.

Here’s a closer look at the history of the slogan and the concerns about it use:

Its origin dates back to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It is a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that includes Israel. The slogan gained traction in the 1960s, particularly during Six-Day War in 1967.

In December 2012, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal used the slogan in a speech commemorating its 25th anniversary: “The state will come from resistance, not negotiation. Liberation first, then statehood. Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north.”

Several Jewish and pro-Israel organizations have denounced the slogan, citing Mashaal’s remarks.

“It is an antisemitic charge denying the Jewish right to self-determination, including through the removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland,” the Anti-Defamation League says on its website.

Palestinian rights activist Yousef Munayyer has written that the criticism of the slogan is based not on fact, butracism and Islamophobia.”

“When we call for a free Palestine from the river to the sea, it is precisely the existing system of domination that we seek to end,” Munayyer wrote in Jewish Currents in 2021.


How we got the story

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used these sources for this report:

The Denver Post, Dec. 8, 2012: In Gaza speech, Hamas leader defiant, pushes for “liberation”

The Forward, Dec. 3, 2018: “From The River To The Sea” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Jewish Currents, June 11, 2021: What Does “From the River to the Sea” Really Mean?

Reuters, Oct. 11, 2023: “From the river to the sea” prompts Vienna to ban pro-Palestinian protest

The Anti-Defamation League, Oct. 26, 2023: Allegation: “From the River to the Sea Palestine Will be Free”

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