Why ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free’ is not Hate Speech
Western supporters of the colonial entity are no less enthusiastic about the eradication of Palestine and all memory of Palestine than a Zionist settler-agent injuring, killing and dispossessing the Indigenous population of Palestine.
The Zionist-colonial war and occupation of Palestine is also a war on memory. Western supporters of the colonial entity are no less enthusiastic about the eradication of Palestine and all memory of Palestine than a Zionist settler agent injuring, killing, and dispossessing the Indigenous population of Palestine. Earlier this year, the then British Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, stated that the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” had malicious intent. He claimed the slogan represents an “anti-Semitic, intolerant, murderous attitude.” An academic and media commentator who uttered this slogan to remind Zionist colonial settlers and their supporters that Palestine is owed justice “From the River to the Sea” was denounced as abetting anti-semitism and was relieved of his media position. Other supporters of Zionist colonialism go further and decry the slogan calling for another genocide. As this line of thought continues to gain momentum in the western establishment, there is a need to dispel this ignorance.
The story of the modern-day’s Zionist colonial project in Palestine, “Israel”, begins with the British Empire’s Balfour Declaration issued in November 1917 and then Britain receiving an international “Mandate” to rule Palestine in 1920. On the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017, the then British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was proud of Britain’s “pioneering role in creating” the Zionist colonial entity in Palestine. The Declaration written by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lord Rothschild for the attention of the Zionist Federation is a pithy 120 words that states that:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”
We can unpack three basic facts from this section of the declaration. Firstly, by virtue of the fact that the British Empire’s Foreign Secretary's insistence to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine presumes that there were too few of a Jewish population to form a nation, therefore the British imperial government would facilitate its creation. Secondly, the creation of the “Jewish national home” would be in an already existing country called Palestine. Thirdly, there is an existing non-Jewish population in Palestine, which non-imperialists and antiracists refer to as the indigenous population.
The Jewish population of Palestine at the time of the issue of the Balfour Declaration varies from 60 to 80 thousand within the existing Indigenous Palestinian population of 700,000. To use the Balfour Declaration terminology, the British Empire was to ‘facilitate’ the growth of Jewish people in Palestine. It did this by allowing massive Jewish immigration to Palestine, largely from Europe. [The Jewish populations of Europe had faced constant prejudices and programs over many centuries and a political idea had arisen from among them which argued a solution to the European Jewish predicament would be a nation of its own instead of living reviled among people prone to blame their woes on random Jewish scapegoats. This idea is central to the Zionist movement.]
The Indigenous population of Palestine didn’t get Balfour’s anti-democratic memo. Or as Balfour was later to say, “…In Palestine, we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country…” because Zionism, “is rooted…in present needs, in future hopes, of far more profound import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” Implicit in Balfour’s diatribe is true contempt for the Indigenous population in favour of settler-colonialism.
The imperial metropole’s most liberal newspaper, The Guardian, was a chief champion of Zionist colonisation in Palestine. It glowingly welcomed the Balfour Declaration and its intent to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine. It editorialised that Palestine “is not a country” but “it will be the country of the Jews” and that is the meaning of the Balfour Declaration. The editorial then treated its readers to theological babble before outlining the reason why it’s important to reward Palestine to Zionist colonial settlers: “Palestine has a special importance for Great Britain because, in the hands of a hostile Power, it can be made as our experience in this war has shown, a secure base from which a land attack on Egypt can be organised.” Therefore, “Our interest, and practically our sole particular interest, in Palestine is that this danger should be effectually guarded against...” For Britain planting Zionist colonial settlers in Palestine will help in the defence of the British Empire’s presence in Egypt which it saw as its possession.
More so, the Indigenous population of Palestine was written off in The Guardian using standard white supremacist and racist trope: “The existing Arab population of Palestine is small and at a low stage of civilisation. It contains within itself none of the elements of progress…” The language is genteel but it was this type of thinking that led to the ethnic cleansing of the native Americans and the indigenous population of Tasmania. That is Indigenous populations are sub-human (i.e. “contains within itself none of the elements of progress”) and Britain’s Zionist colonialists will be bringing civilisation and progress to Palestine. Racist arguments were openly the norm among Europeans until Hitler employed this line of thinking with his policies in the 1940s.
The left-wing New Statesman also endorsed the Balfour Declaration and the colonisation of Palestine on the grounds that it would be of benefit to the British Empire to have a population in Palestine that’ll help it defend the Suez Canal. It argued or rather, stated that “The special interest of the British Empire in Palestine is due to the proximity of the Suez Canal…To make Palestine once more prosperous and populous, with a population attached to the British Empire, there is only one hopeful way, and that is to effect a Zionist restoration under British auspices.” The use of the word “restoration” is simply code for colonisation and British auspices is simply another way of saying British military might. The editorial then laments that the Jewish people of Europe can never be fully integrated within Europe – “and we fail to see how the adherents of such a distinct religion can ever be really assimilated in other nationalities” – so therefore it is “far better…to make a nation of them.”
The first thing the British did to make a nation out of the Jewish people of Europe was to allow for Zionist colonisation over the head of the Indigenous population. Under British auspices, the Zionist Jewish population increased from a few tens of thousands in 1917 to hundreds of thousands by the mid-1930s. The Indigenous Arabs of Palestine took up arms in 1936 and rebelled against the British colonial project to no avail, as it was eventually crushed by the Empire and its Zionist colonial-settler protégés. In the Empire’s House of Commons, the Colonial Secretary, William Ormsby-Gore, admitted that what was at the root of the armed struggle was the age-old desire of the Indigenous population to liberate themselves from British imperialists and their Zionist colonisers:
“…The Arabs demand a complete stoppage of all Jewish immigration, a complete stoppage of all sales of land, and the transfer of the Government of Palestine…to what they call a National Government responsible to an elected democratic assembly. Those are their three demands, and quite frankly, those demands cannot possibly be conceded.”
- Commons Debates, Fifth Series, Vol. 313, Column 1324, 19th June 1936.
Behind the scenes in parliament, Winston Churchill let it be known what future the British had in store for the Palestinians. In his witness statement during the Peel Commission in Palestine, he echoed The Guardian’s racist endorsement of the Balfour Declaration and declared that:
“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time...I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia...I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, ‘The American Continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here’. They had not the right, nor had they the power.”
Churchill strongly and approvingly admits in this testament that settler-colonialism is centred on the violent dispossession of the less powerful Indigenous population. By virtue of sharing these thoughts with the Peel Commission, he implies the fate that was delivered to the “Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia” awaits the Arab Palestinians.
More so, in Britain, the call to colonise and ethnic cleanse Palestine of its Indigenous population enjoyed cross-party support and advocacy. The first ever Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay McDonald justified colonisation in Palestine on the basis the colonial settlers were building a socialist paradise and wrote a book, A Socialist in Palestine, to justify colonisation. In the mid-1940s, the Labour Party openly debated the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in a motion that openly declared, “There is neither hope nor meaning in a ‘Jewish National Home’ unless we are prepared to let Jews…enter this tiny land [Palestine] in such numbers as to become a majority…” and, “Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in.”
It is therefore no surprise that the vast majority of the Indigenous Palestinian ethnic cleansing during late 1947 and the end of the British Mandate in 1948 was carried out under the British government’s watch when they were still official rulers. According to Rosemarie Esber in her book, Under the Cover of War: The Zionist Expulsion of Palestinians, four hundred thousand Palestinians and 225 Palestinian villages and towns were ethnically cleansed by Britain’s Zionist colonial settlers during this period.
Naturally, Zionist colonisers are averse to being reminded that their entity “Israel” is of brutal ethnic cleansing and colonial origin and by the same token the British establishment, [including its left-wingers, such as former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn] are just as averse in being reminded of their role in ‘facilitating’ the occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the years of the British Mandate. Therefore, the anti-colonial truth that there is an occupied Palestine stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River will always be too controversial to acknowledge.
Ultimately, the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” is rooted in a decades-old Indigenous struggle against imperialism and settler colonialism. It is a rallying cry against historical denial and subterfuge. The slogan’s unapologetic anti-Zionism is rooted in the truth that the creation of “Israel” is rooted in British-engineered ethnic cleansing. It is an insistence for restitution, decolonisation, and justice and not in any variety of hate speech.