“From the river to the sea”

May 14, 2024
Graffiti at TSC for stand with Palestine. 22 November 2023,

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a chant being used frequently today in rallies around the country in support of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza. More relevantly, for the purposes of this paper, the chant is being used in university campuses, where protestors are active, to the point of erecting tents, encampments, to accommodate themselves during the course of their protest.

The Zionist response is standard. The protestors must be opposed. It amazes me, however, that the response is in so many ways, built on falsehoods or irrelevancies. Let us consider.

The chant is said to be inflammatory, and makes Jewish students feel ‘unsafe’, necessitating calls upon university staff to take action to end the protests. How to respond? Let us take the allegation that Jewish students feel unsafe in their university, a place where they should feel safe. Unsafe? How does fellow students protesting genocide in a small strip of land half a world away cause a Jewish student to feel unsafe? The ones who really must feel unsafe are the small children buried, but still alive for the moment, under a ton of rubble which was once their home. There is no-one to comfort them. Their parents are dead. The students who are protesting are doing the only decent thing. How could that be inflammatory?

In any event, what do the words mean? The reference is to Palestine – the land – not Palestinians. The land is land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. But what land? It might be the whole of historic Palestine, being the whole of the British Mandate, encompassing today’s Israel, plus all of occupied Palestine, the Occupied Territories, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Or it might be only those Occupied Territories.

Let’s call that two options. How could the reference to either be inflammatory? We shall deal with the easier option first, namely the Occupied Territories. Almost the whole world advances a two-state solution, one of those states being what is presently the Occupied Territories. Australia, on Friday last, voted in the General Assembly to effectively support such a state. All states are sovereign – they are hence free! How could calling for that Palestine to be free be in any way inflammatory?

Now to the second option – all of the land including Israel. Let’s be clear – Israel cannot be described as free, for all its citizens. There are a million plus Palestinians living there. They are second-class citizens. They live in an apartheid state. This cannot be denied. It has been found to be such by reliable entities, namely B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation, the New York based Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, No credible answer to these fully documented findings has ever been forthcoming either from Israel or its supporters, principally the US and Germany. Palestinians living in Israel live under a system of Jewish supremacy and open racism. They are not free. People of conscience, such as our protesting students, are not intimidating anyone by doing the right thing, and calling for them to be free!

Let us consider a little further the significance of the fact that Israel is an apartheid state.

Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It is covered as such by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Australia is of course a signatory of the Rome Statute. Article 7 of the Statute addresses “Crimes against humanity”, which is one of the four categories of crime identified in Article 5 as “Crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court”. Relevantly, Article 7 is in these terms:

1,  For the purposes of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

(j) The crime of apartheid; …

2,  For the purposes of paragraph 1:

(h) “The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime; ….

Israel qualifies. Consider these statements (two of many):

  • Netanyahu: “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel”, which land includes territories supposed to become a future Palestinian state, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem; (This statement goes even further than the 2018 Jewish National State Law, which defines self-determination as unique to the Jewish people within the State of Israel.)
  • Smotrich, Finance Minister: “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people”.

An apartheid state is a pariah state. It cannot continue. In the same way that former South Africa could not continue, neither can Israel. If the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free” means that Israel must cease to exist, it is saying no more than what international law does. It means that Israel in its present form cannot continue to exist. It must repeal the laws which make it an apartheid state. When that is done, it can continue to exist. There would be a state called Israel, or Palestine, whatever, in which all its citizens are equal, and religious freedom exists. Not one Jewish citizen of present Israel must leave. Let me adopt words from a media release put out by the Australian Friends of Palestine (AFOPA) last week:

The phrase “from the river to the sea” has been weaponised by Zionists to mean the destruction of Israel. This cannot be further from the truth. The phrase is a vision for peace where all people, regardless of race, colour or religion, have equal rights, equal freedoms and equal obligations. It encompasses the principles of democracy, equality and unity from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, historical Palestine. And what more can we ask of our young people than to call and strive for these values?

Those calling for one state, not two states, are recognising these principles. There are many, like me, who believe that it is necessary, or appropriate, to go through a two-state phase, at the least, before the chance for a successful one-state materialises. But regardless, calling for one state is not inflammatory.

It has been reported that our universities are seeking legal advice from federal authorities, inter alia, on whether the subject phrase, “river to the sea” is antisemitic and seeks the destruction of Israel. Affirmative advice to that effect would be a prelude to action being taken against the protestors. What federal authorities should consider is whether those vice-chancellors seeking the legal advice are breaking international law by becoming accomplices to the crime of apartheid. Consider again the Rome Statute. Article 25, Individual criminal responsibility:

3,  In accordance with this Statute, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person:

(c) For the purpose of facilitating the commission of such a crime, aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission……

Our student protestors, by their actions might be said to be seeking to prevent the commission of crimes against humanity, viz. genocide and apartheid. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), we must remember, has already found at the preliminary stage of the South African suit against Israel, that the crime of genocide is plausible.

The vice-chancellors, by their action, might be said to be inhibiting the protestors in their endeavour. Might it be arguable that such action “aids, abets or otherwise assists in (the) commission” of the said crime? Might the vice-chancellors be making themselves, potentially, accomplices in crimes against humanity? Have no doubt – the censorship or suppression of the public condemnation of crimes against humanity, such as genocide, serves to justify the killing. It is the responsibility of university administrators to safeguard the rights of students to oppose injustice or crimes against humanity.

I for one consider that our student protestors are conducting themselves in a most laudable manner. The vice-chancellors of their universities might better spend their time, by considering how the protestors should be supported, and/or rewarded.


Related articles:

Israel and apartheid

Australia must clarify Israel’s status as an Apartheid state

Australia and apartheid Israel: “not to act is to condone”

Does Israel have a right to exist?

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!