“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” Is not Hate Speech

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

For sharing these ten simple yet powerful words, a Calgary activist was arrested, a Montreal film screening was cancelled, a CNN journalist lost his job, and a Congresswoman was censured.

These acts of censorship are deeply concerning, showing a widespread misunderstanding of the nature of this chant and slogan. Considering this statement “hate speech” or a “call to violence” is a fundamental error that serves to silence voices speaking up for human rights.

 “From the river to the sea” encompasses many of the spaces in which Israel has effective control over Palestinians.

The chant is a call for Palestinian liberation from settler colonialism, a call for the freedom and human rights of Palestinians to be respected across their homeland.

It cannot be inherently violent to call for your own dignity to be respected, and to label the Palestinian quest for freedom as inherently antisemitic or actively violent is Islamophobic and a form of anti-Palestinian racism.

Pro-Israel critics cannot speak over what Palestinians themselves are saying about their own liberation movement, especially not in the name of Jews. Jews are no monolith, and many Jewish voices cry out this chant alongside Palestinians without reservation.

The impulse to label calls for freedom as violent comes from a fundamentally oppressive mindset. None of IJV’s Palestinian allies believe in a free Palestine that represses Jewish life. The assumption that calls for freeing the land and people of Palestine inherently call for the eradication of Jews is a misapplied symmetry of the Israeli state’s attitude: that Jewish rights can only be respected at the expense of Palestinian rights and lives.

The founding charter of Netanyahu’s Likud party states that “between the sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” The coalition agreement of the current Israeli government toes a similar line, upholding only Jewish sovereignty across the territory. 

Put bluntly, just because Israeli politicians see Palestinians as “human animals” worthy of eradication doesn’t mean that Palestinians see Jews the same way.

When Jewish allies and other supporters of Palestinian liberation share in this chant, we are collectively dreaming of a Palestine-Israel in which no one is forced to live under apartheid, to face genocide or to lose their home. This act of post-colonial imagination is fundamental to repairing the world, tikkun olam, for all who inhabit it.