May 16, 2024 | New York Post

Don’t buy Rashida Tlaib & Co.’s lie: ‘From the river to the sea’ has always meant erasing Israel

May 16, 2024 | New York Post

Don’t buy Rashida Tlaib & Co.’s lie: ‘From the river to the sea’ has always meant erasing Israel

In English, protesters call for Palestine to be free.

But when their chants shift to Arabic, they often call for the whole of Palestine to be Arab — an explicit call to dismantle the Jewish state and dispossess its people.

video from February shows a crowd gathered on the steps of Harvard’s venerable Widener Library.

A woman with a bullhorn is teaching the group to chant, “Min al-mayah lil-mayah, Falastin arabiyah!” 

The literal translation of that: “From the water [the River Jordan] to the water [the Mediterranean], Palestine is Arab!”

At MIT last week, another bullhorn-wielding protester led the crowd in exactly the same chant, then improvised a new ending: “Al-mawt la-sahyuniyah!”— “Death to Zionism!”

There is a campaign afoot to persuade Americans that “From the river to the sea” is not a call to erase Israel from the map.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D), the Palestinian-American from Michigan, called the slogan “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence.”

The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee likewise insists it’s “a demand for democratic coexistence between Jews and Arabs.”

This is a willful distortion of history, which shows that the animating purpose of the slogan is to reject Jewish control of any sliver of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

The phrase has its origins in early the days of the Palestinian national movement in the 1960s, though early examples of its usage remain elusive.

In 1980, Yasser Arafat declared, “The victorious march will continue until the flag of Palestine is raised above Jerusalem and above the whole area of Palestine from the River to the Sea.”

The flag of Israel would have no place.

When Arafat led his Fatah party and the Palestinian Liberation Organization into a peace process with Israel in the 1990s, his critics deployed the slogan to signal their complete rejection of Arafat’s readiness to compromise on the question of Israel’s existence.

Upon his release from an Israeli prison in 1997, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder of Hamas, told his followers, “Palestine is still occupied and the Hamas will not stop the holy war until the liberation of all Palestine from the river to the sea.”

In 2003, Yassin’s deputy, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, led 100,000 demonstrators in a pledge to continue their jihad until Palestine reached from the river to the sea.

Leaders who did favor negotiations even described “from the river to the sea” as the position they rejected because of its excessive ambition.

Abdallah Darwish, the late Arab Israeli leader, said in 1993, “Every Hamas backer has the right to dream of a Palestine from the river to the sea,” but that is unrealistic.

While Palestinians understood that Israel could not exist if their state occupied all the land between the river and the sea, protesters on American campuses began to dispute the plain meaning of the slogan as early as 2003.

That year, students at Rutgers University in New Jersey hung a banner on campus displaying the slogan, which pro-Israel students condemned as an incitement to violence.

Protest leader Charlotte Kates responded, “I interpret it to be about liberation,” and “it doesn’t have to do with kicking anybody out.”

Still, she refused to condemn suicide bombings and said all the land, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, must be returned to Palestinians.

Palestinian-American and pro-Palestinian scholars have attempted to build an intellectual edifice to justify the slogan’s growing acceptance in the mainstream.

Maha Nassar of the University of Arizona wrote in 2018 the slogan “was part of a larger call to see a secular democratic state established in all of historic Palestine.”

In 2021, Yousef Munayyer from the Arab Center Washington DC condemned as racist and Islamophobic any effort to distort the slogan’s meaning by reading it as a call for extermination.

Amid the dispute over slogan’s import, there is a growing tendency, especially in the media, to assume that all interpretations have equal merit. And it’s certainly true that no fiat can fix the meaning of words for all time.

Yet on Oct. 7, Hamas demonstrated what “from the river to the sea” means in practice, regardless of what it means to some protesters in theory.

If university leaders are serious about protecting students from antisemitic harassment and intimidation, they should recognize this slogan as a threat to erase the Jewish state from existence.

David Adesnik is the director of research at FDD, where Ahmad Sharawi is a research analyst.


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