The Global Controversy Surrounding “From the River to the Sea”: Unraveling Perspectives on Palestinian Solidarity

In the middle of October, the world witnessed a bold stand for solidarity with Palestine by Anwar El Ghazi, the Moroccan-Dutch footballer, who refused to apologize for his support despite pressure from his club, Mainz 05. El Ghazi found himself in hot water after posting on Instagram expressing his solidarity with Palestine, a move that led to his indefinite suspension by the club. Undeterred, he left Germany and returned to his hometown in Rotterdam.

Similar incidents unfolded with Noussair Mazraoui, a player from Bayern Munich, who faced harassment from the German media, Bild, due to his support for Palestine. Mazraoui’s Instagram post, featuring a Palestinian flag and the comment “Ameen” with a praying hands emoji, sparked discussions within his club. Bayern Munich decided to retain him after he expressed regret if his post was perceived as offensive and firmly rejected all forms of terrorism.

These incidents were part of a larger global movement in support of Palestine, symbolized by the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This expression, rooted in the historical struggles of the Palestinian people, represented their fight against discrimination and occupation, encompassing the entire region where Palestinians’ rights were denied.

However, this powerful message faced resistance and misinterpretation in different parts of the world. In 2018, CNN fired contributor Marc Lamont Hill after he used the same phrase during an event at the United Nations, leading to accusations that he was advocating for the end of Israel. Hill defended himself, stating that his comment was a call for justice and emphasizing the need to understand and respect the Palestinian perspective.

The phrase “From the river to the sea” held a unique significance for Palestinians, representing their aspiration for a democratic state across historic Palestine. It embodied their hope for freedom, equality, and the right to return, especially for those who experienced the Nakba, the mass expulsion of Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Despite its historical context and significance, the phrase faced censorship and legal challenges in several countries. In October 2023, demonstrations in support of Palestine using the slogan were banned in Vienna and London, with authorities interpreting it as a potential incitement to violence. In Austria and the UK, conservative governments exploited new laws to restrict protests, expand police powers, and criminalize the way of life of certain communities.

France and Germany also prohibited pro-Palestine protests, citing security threats. In Berlin, schools were instructed to ban traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves. However, in a contrasting move, a Dutch court ruled in August that the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” did not incite hatred or violate the law, supporting the activists’ right to express their solidarity.

Amidst these challenges, protests across various countries continued, calling for a ceasefire, an end to violence, the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, and immediate humanitarian aid. The phrase “From the river to the sea” persisted, echoing quietly but persistently, mirroring the enduring hope for a free Palestine, where people could live as equal and free citizens, neither dominating nor being dominated.