The exact origin and date of the adage “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” remain uncertain. As to Elliott Colla, a professor at Georgetown University specializing in Arabic and Islamic Studies, the phrase, as it is now understood, emerged during the first intifada and the discussions of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Nevertheless, several records trace its origins to the Palestinian emergence in the 1960s.

The rivers and seas of the Jordan in the east and the Mediterranean in the west are the focal points of this phrase, which exhibits rhyming patterns in both English and Arabic.

A modern Arabic version is “min al-nahr ila al-bahr / Filastin satatharrar.” The phrase has existed for a few decades in various iterations. In recent years, there has been a constant increase in US popular support for Palestinians, particularly among younger generations. Consequently, the phrase has become a political hot potato in describing the contentious nature of discussions around the future of Israel and Palestine.Amidst the Israel-Hamas conflict, the ongoing territorial dispute, and widespread protests against Israel’s military activities in Gaza.

Historians, professionals, and activists have asserted that the term has undergone several meanings within the context of the Palestinian national cause according to Tlaib and many others, the phrase is everything but antisemitic. According to Tlaib, it might be described as “a hopeful demand for liberty, human rights, and harmonious cohabitation.” Nevertheless, many Jews saw it as a significant threat to the continued existence of Israel as a nation with a mostly Jewish population.

The sentence was first composed in Arabic, including explicit Islamist and Arab nationalist connotations. Colla states that a first translation rendered the phrase as “‘From the river to the sea’… or ‘from the water to the water, Palestine is Islamic.” Perhaps the view that “Palestine is Arab” is more universally acknowledged. Nevertheless, the phrase “will be free” has been more widespread since it has been adopted by many individuals and organizations, especially in English-speaking solidarity communities.

Meanwhile, political movements such as pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism have seen a decline in popularity. In essence, it symbolizes a concept of liberty and unity throughout historic Palestine, focusing on the emancipation of the Palestinian population living in the occupied territories.

A major motif in all its forms has been the unity of the Palestinian encounter with division and displacement.

Assisted by other Arab nations, the Palestinian Arabs living in present-day Israel rejected a 1947 United Nations partition plan that aimed to divide the area into distinct Jewish and Arab administrations, with Jerusalem being designated as an international city. Backed by British assistance, the Jewish community engaged in conflict with and emerged victorious against Arab and Palestinian military forces, seeing this outcome as their authorization to establish the nation of Israel. Consequently, Israel was established as a nation only for Jewish people in 1948.

Over time, Israel has asserted its ownership, intruded upon, or taken control of the territory where Palestinians reside. Following the 1967 war, Israel gained control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, which were previously under Jordan’s ownership. The internal political division within the Palestinian leadership, coupled with the physical separation and limited communication between Palestinians residing in the territories and those in Israel, have posed challenges in establishing a unified national identity and organizing effectively.

As per the definition provided by the American Jewish Committee, the phrase “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” is considered antisemitic. This is the reason why pro-Israel organizations in the United States, such as the American Jewish Council and the Anti-Defamation League, have labeled it as a genocide call.

The AJC describes it as a call to action for terrorist organizations and their supporters, ranging from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to Hamas.

For individuals who are limited to just two distinct identities and firmly entrenched inside an increasingly disturbed global capitalist system, the concept of a really liberated, fair, and environmentally conscious world—specifically, a Palestine that is free from one end to the other—remains unattainable. Nevertheless, the liberation of Israel is contingent upon the liberation of Palestine, as seen by the current surge of violence, and genuine decolonization is the necessary cost for achieving this autonomy. This involves constructing a political system, whatever its name or form, that ensures equal rights and freedoms for all those living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

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