The slogan reflects the geography of this initial claim: Israel extends over the narrow strip of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But the phrase’s popularity persisted even as territorial claims changed, after the PLO entered into peace negotiations in the 1990s, officially recognizing Israel’s right to exist and access government through the creation of the Palestinian Authority.
For many Palestinians, the phrase now has a dual meaning, representing their desire for a right of return to the towns and villages from which their families were expelled in 1948, as well as their hope for an independent Palestinian state, including the West Bank. which borders the Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, which runs along the Mediterranean coast.
“When they use that phrase, it’s a very personal expression for them,” said Maha Nassar, an associate professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Arizona. “They say, ‘I identify with my ancestral home in Palestine, even though it’s not on a map today.’ »
“It is also an emphasis on the unification of Palestinians and Palestine,” she added.
But the phrase has also been adopted over the years by Hamas, which calls for Israel’s annihilation, taking on a darker meaning that has long shaped how it is received.
This only intensified following Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on October 7, in which the group killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers, the largest massacre of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust, and took hundreds more hostage. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed since then by Israeli strikes.
“This is an anti-Semitic accusation that denies the right of Jews to self-determination, including expelling Jews from their ancestral homeland. » according to the Anti-Defamation League.
In an article on “Pretending that this is a gathering of coexistence gives cover for terror.
Many members of Congress, including dozens of Democrats, supported a similar view this week in condemning Ms. Tlaib for her comments.
The slogan does not appear in Hamas’ founding 1988 agreement, which pledges to “confront and defeat the Zionist invasion” not only in the historic Palestinian territory, but throughout the world. It does, however, appear in a section of the group’s revised program from 2017. In the same paragraph, Hamas indicates that it could accept a Palestinian state along the borders that were in place before the 1967 war – the same borders that envisaged in the Oslo Accords. .
Yet Hamas’ firm commitment not to recognize Israel under any conditions has reinforced the impression among critics that anyone who repeats the slogan is participating in a rallying cry for the destruction of Israel – and by extension, the Jewish people as well.
“The phrase ‘Palestine will be free from the river to the sea’ suggests a vision of the future without a Jewish state, but it does not answer the question of what the role of Jews would be,” said Peter Beinart, professor at the University of Washington. the City University of New York. He added that the meaning of the phrase “depends on the context.”
“If it comes from an armed member of Hamas, then yes, I would feel threatened,” said Professor Beinart, who is Jewish. “If it comes from someone who I know has a vision of equality and mutual liberation, then no, I wouldn’t feel threatened.”
Many Palestinians have been dismayed by the outrage over the slogan, which they see as the result of an orchestrated effort by groups like the ADL to challenge Palestinian motives to undermine their cause for statehood and silence them.
“It is perfectly possible for the two peoples to be free between the river and the sea,” Ahmad Khalidi, a researcher at Oxford University who worked on Arab-Israeli peace negotiations in the 1990s, said of Palestinians and Jews. “Is freedom necessarily genocide in itself? I think any reasonable person would say no. Does this exclude the fact that the Jewish population in the area between the sea and the river cannot be free either? I think any reasonable person would also say no.
Mr. Khalidi pointed out that the Israeli Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had adopted a similar slogan in its original platform from 1977, which declared that “between the sea and the Jordan, there will be only Israeli sovereignty.” That phrase could also be considered “having malicious intent,” he said.
Likud has since abandoned the phrase, although the party has opposed to a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would have a recognized state alongside Israel. And in 2018, Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition pushed through a law which enshrines the right to national self-determination in Israel as being “specific to the Jewish people”.