‘From the river to the sea’: Why a 6-word phrase sparks fury and passion over the Israel-Hamas war

by Ethan Kim
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Israel-Hamas Conflict

The six-word phrase, “from the river to the sea,” associated with the Israel-Hamas conflict, has become a polarizing slogan. Originating from the geographic markers of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, this slogan encapsulates a significant stretch of land that includes Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This phrase gained renewed attention following a series of violent events. On October 7, Hamas launched a deadly assault across southern Israel, leading to Israel’s subsequent heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip. This phrase was echoed in global pro-Palestinian rallies, from London to Washington, particularly in the turbulent period following Israel’s most violent day.

This slogan is interpreted differently by various groups. Many Palestinian activists view it as a call for peace and equality, marking 75 years of Israeli statehood and prolonged Israeli military governance over Palestinian populations. Conversely, many Jews perceive it as a direct threat to Israel’s existence.

The recent violence has been unprecedented. Hamas fighters killed over 1,400 people in Israel and took at least 240 hostages back to Gaza, marking the worst violence against Jews since the Holocaust. Israel’s retaliatory actions included intense bombardment and a ground offensive in Gaza, resulting in over 11,000 Palestinian casualties, as reported by Gaza’s Health Ministry under Hamas control.

Hamas has adopted “from the river to the sea” as part of its agenda, which was evident in a speech by its former leader, Khaled Mashaal, in 2012. This slogan also finds its origins in the Hamas charter.

The history of this phrase dates back to the events surrounding the 1948 war, during which approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from present-day Israel. Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and its subsequent withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, followed by Hamas’s takeover in 2007, are pivotal moments in this narrative.

Jewish communities, especially in London, express deep concern over the increasing use of this slogan, associating it with a rise in antisemitism. They argue that its frequent use in pro-Palestinian protests and merchandise signals an alarming trend.

Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib defended the use of this slogan, emphasizing its connotation of hope and peaceful coexistence rather than destruction or hate. Similarly, Yousef Munayyer of the Arab Center Washington highlighted the lack of freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians in the region.

The international community largely advocates for a two-state solution, although the feasibility of this has been questioned due to Israeli settlement expansions and political stances. The Israeli government, particularly under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has also expressed intentions of asserting Israeli sovereignty over this entire region.

The use of this slogan can have significant repercussions for public figures. For instance, Tlaib faced censure, a serious congressional penalty, for her defense of the slogan. In Vienna, a pro-Palestinian demonstration was banned due to the inclusion of this phrase in its invitations, citing it as a potential incitement to violence. The Labour party in Britain similarly penalized MP Andy McDonald for using the phrase, although he clarified that his intention was to call for an end to violence and for liberty for all in the region.

[The original author of this article can be followed for further updates at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman.]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Israel-Hamas Conflict

What is the significance of the phrase “from the river to the sea” in the context of the Israel-Hamas conflict?

The phrase “from the river to the sea” refers to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing Israel and Palestinian territories. It has become a contentious slogan in the Israel-Hamas conflict, symbolizing different aspirations and fears for Palestinians and Jews. For many Palestinians, it represents a call for freedom and equality in the region, while many Jews perceive it as a threat to Israel’s existence.

How has the phrase “from the river to the sea” been used in recent conflicts?

The phrase gained prominence following a series of violent events, including Hamas’ attack across southern Israel and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip. It was chanted in pro-Palestinian rallies globally, especially after Israel’s violent day. Hamas has also adopted this slogan in its political rhetoric, further polarizing its interpretation.

What are the historical roots of the phrase “from the river to the sea”?

This phrase has historical roots dating back to the events of the 1948 war and the displacement of Palestinians. It also relates to Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The slogan was further popularized by Hamas, particularly in a speech by its former leader Khaled Mashaal in 2012.

How do different communities interpret this phrase?

Palestinian activists often view the phrase as a call for peace, human rights, and equality after decades of Israeli statehood and military rule. In contrast, many in the Jewish community see it as a call for the destruction of Israel and a symbol of rising antisemitism, especially when used in protests and merchandise.

What are the consequences of using the phrase “from the river to the sea” for public figures?

Public figures face significant risks when using this phrase. For instance, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib faced censure in the House for defending it. In some instances, its use has led to the banning of demonstrations, as seen in Vienna, and temporary punishments within political parties, as evidenced by the Labour party’s action against MP Andy McDonald in Britain.

More about Israel-Hamas Conflict

  • History of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
  • Hamas and its Political Stance
  • Rashida Tlaib and Political Repercussions
  • Jewish Community’s Response to Antisemitism
  • The Two-State Solution Debate
  • International Reactions to the Israel-Hamas Conflict
  • Overview of the Middle East Politics

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