From the river to the sea?

I want to start this post with a private story. In June 1987, I arrived for the first time in the USA to work in a summer camp. This was before the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising). Calm world, and in the Bazar of the old city of Jerusalem, loudspeakers played more Sephardic Jewish music than Arabic music. In December, the first Intifada erupted and the world was almost unrecognizably changed, but this is not the subject of this post.

Six years later, I returned to the same summer camp that many Israeli youth and adults like me attended. The Israeli group, Jews and Arabs, was one of around forty other delegations of different nations and cultures. Most of these had came from conflicted regions, blacks and whites from Rhodesia, Cambodians, Chinese, Koreans and even Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland. One of the most important and declared goals of the organization that operated the summer camp was conflict management and bridging gaps. So, in 1987, summer activities and atmosphere were nice and cozy, but in 1988, summer was entirely different. Most discussion and arguments about the Middle East were much louder, emotionally charged, and mostly ended with disagreements and even bitter disappointments.

I am telling my readers all this because it refers to two interrelated important things. First, an article by Daniel Edelson claims that 53% of the US students that chant “from the river to the sea” do not know which river and/or which sea! Second, I know this American ignorance. I know it too well.

It will be a waste of time to give examples because they are many and some are very embarrassing. And after visiting many countries in the world I can tell that Americans are most ignorant, at least among citizens of developed countries. Please do not misunderstand me: on the personal level, most of them are amazing people, with great humor and wonderful hospitality. In almost all cases that I needed help, they gladly provided it to me. But when it comes to knowledge about the “external world,” their ignorance is horrible. Most American students will fail the question of finding the location of their own country on a world map without names, and most Americans do not know which states border the state that they reside in.

This ignorance slightly “improved” after the 9/11 attacks, and most of Americans do not realize even today, that Osama Bin Laden was invented and armed by their very own government. Hamas and Israel? Exactly. Comparing with developed Western nations, Americans are very religious, and the fact that they do not know what “river” that is, sounds really astonishing since this river is in the “Holy Land,” and in this river Jesus was baptized.

This links us to the concept of Palestine from the river to the sea. Palestine as an independent political entity never existed. It was always part of a greater political body: the British mandate in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire or Arabic great states that preceded the Ottomans. Palestine was always an administrative region of Great Syria. The attempts to present it as an independent state in educational systems or influential media, range from funny to ridiculous. Palestine never had exact or defined boarders.

The term “Palestine” got its vivid meaning as a result of the Zionist movement development and its actions, especially the Jewish immigration to this part of the world. In my humble opinion, the Jewish nation was invented, but Jewish independent states existed here since ancient times. On the contrary, Palestine has no independent history of whatever kind. A nonscientific illustration of this statement can be found in this very interesting video: Palestinians in the West Bank were asked in a street survey to name an important historic Palestinian figure. They very expectedly failed to find such that lived before 1948! Most of them answered Yasser Arafat. That is all Palestinian history.

But history of nations has wonderful dynamics. The first white American immigrants to the New World were colonialists, occupiers, and confiscated the land of Native Americans by very cruel force and genocidal actions. They also forcibly brought Africans to the USA and brutally enslaved and tortured them in a holocaust style. Despite all this, no one demands expelling their descendants back to Europe or other parts of the world.

Unlike Americans, Palestinians as a clearly distinguished culture, have existed here since antiquity. So, I completely and unequivocally recognize the rights of Jews and Palestinians to independent states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If this will be one shared state, that is even better. I agree with James Schneider that “Free Palestine” means ending the suffering of Palestinian people and securing the freedom.

It is time to abandon fascist and racist dreams such as that of Bezalel Smotrich (starts 15:00): in his hallucinations, Jewish Jerusalem will swallow all Arab land until Damascus.

It is time for peace.

About the Author
Dr Abed L. Azab was born and lives now with his family in A’ra, Israel. He completed his PhD in Medicinal Chemistry in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is an educator, teacher, social activist and column writer.
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