Michael Boyden

From the river to the sea

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a great slogan. (I wonder who the copywriter was.) The fact that many don’t know which river and which sea we’re talking about doesn’t matter. It rhymes well.

Most of the gullible and ignorant people who chant those words today in the demonstrations organized against Israel are probably unaware of the fact that the Arabic version used by Palestinians in the Middle East is: “With blood and with fire we shall redeem Palestine.” It is somewhat more aggressive than the gentler English version, but, then, in Arabic they can say what they really mean!

Maps of Palestine in the Palestinian Authority’s schools, or those that have been found in schools in the Gaza Strip, do not show Israel, because “From the river to the sea” leaves no room for a Jewish State alongside a Palestinian one.

Those left-wing parties in France that, following their unexpected victory in yesterday’s elections, are now clamoring for their country to recognize Palestine need to remember that.

If one had any doubt about the end game, one need only look at the slogan adopted by the Houthis in the Yemen, who indiscriminately attack defenseless cargo ships in the Red Sea: “Allah is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam.”

When we see posters proclaiming “Gaza is a Prison” or “Free Palestine,” a finger is always pointed at Israel. Few are aware of the fact that the Gaza Strip also borders Egypt. However, the Egyptians don’t want the Palestinians.

When President Anwar Sadat insisted on Israel withdrawing from every centimeter of territory captured during the Six Day War in 1967, including the resort of Taba built by Israel in what had been a barren desert area near Eilat, he did not call for the Gaza Strip to be returned to Egypt.

However, the picture is unfortunately not all one-sided. Many will be unaware of the fact that some historians argue that the phrase “From the river to the sea” began as a Zionist slogan signifying the boundaries of Eretz Israel. Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Movement even envisaged a Jewish State on “both sides of the Jordan” with equal rights for its Arab minority.

When I was a child, JNF collection boxes showed Israel’s boundaries as being along the 1949 Armistice lines, what Foreign Minister Abba Eban called the “Auschwitz borders.” However, those boxes today depict an Israel extending from the river to the sea.

Meanwhile the New York Times reported just over a week ago that “Israel says it will legalize five West Bank settlements previously considered illegal, as the government accelerates what critics call a slow-motion annexation of land meant for a Palestinian state.”

While Arab states and the Palestinians are largely responsible for the impasse in seeking to arrive at a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Israel also bears its share of responsibility for a stalemate that can only lead to more bloodshed and suffering.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.