Opinion: Cry for freedom from the river to the sea


Published: 11-12-2023 6:00 AM

Modified: 11-16-2023 10:03 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.

‘From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself,” Edward Said wrote in “Orientalism.” “Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.”

Understanding Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) utterance of “From the River to the Sea” is today passing through such a fire, torched by Orientalists determined to diminish or erase any humanity or sympathy for the plight of Palestinians living under occupation.

While “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free” is for most supporters a rallying cry of support for Palestinian dignity and freedom, some Palestinian antisemitic extremists have appropriated it as a banner for their hateful agenda.

Many others, mostly for those who support continued occupation, interpret the call as a war cry intending to erase Israel from the map of the Levant, others — both including many Israelis and Palestinians, witness it as a call to solidarity for justice and freedom for all peoples between the river and the sea.

For Congresswoman Tlaib, I believe it’s redemptive, an “aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”

For myself, and for supporters of Palestinian dignity and rights, it is a means to call attention to the fact, as I interpret it, that between the [Jordan] River and the [Mediterranean] Sea Palestinians are being denied freedom, security, justice, equality.

It is also, I’ve come to recognize, an adaptive appropriation of a slogan initially made by Zionists over decades, a call for a State of Israel from “The River to the Sea” — and sometimes beyond.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, is on record having said, “The present map of Palestine was drawn by the British mandate. The Jewish people have another map which our youth and adults should strive to fulfill — From the Nile to the Euphrates.”

Menachem Begin’s Likud Party platform stated, in 1977, that “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”

Another prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, said in 1990, “The past leaders of our movement left us a clear message to keep Eretz Israel from the Sea to the River Jordan for future generations ... and for the Jewish people, all of whom will be gathered into this country.”

The presumption that Orientalists can presume to tell the Other what they mean while ignoring their own supremacist histories is unacceptable, dangerous and contrary to the interests of all peoples.

Thus, this week, when The House voted 234-188 to censure Tlaib — one of only three Muslims in Congress and its only Palestinian-American — for speaking of a land between “The River and the Sea” it was censuring not just her words but attempting to erase her very identity, humanity, and authority as a Palestinian-American.

Through their mirror, only Orientalists could discern Tlaib’s intent, only they understood the heart of the Other.

The censure resolution was advanced by Georgia’s Republican Rep. Rich McCormick, who accused Tlaib of using antisemitic language, saying she has “levied unbelievable falsehoods about our greatest ally, Israel, and the attack on October 7.”

Tlaib defended her stance, saying she “will not be silenced and I will not let you distort my words,” and added that her criticism of Israel has always been directed toward its government and its leadership.

Following the shameful, yet successful, vote to censure Tlaib, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke out: “It is not lost on anyone how many offensive, violent, and racist things people regularly hear members of Congress say, yet virtually the only one that gets censured for her political speech also happens to be the only Palestinian American ...”

Shamefully, on Tuesday, November 7, Congressman Chris Pappas, my representative from NH-01, was one of the offensive ‘ayes,’ one of over 20 turncoat Democratic representatives who joined the witch-hunt and voted with the Republicans.

The AIPAC-supported Pappas signed onto a statement that read, in part: “We reject the use of the phrase “from the river to the sea”— a phrase used by many, including Hamas, as a rallying cry for the destruction of the State of Israel and genocide of the Jewish people ...”

I worked for Pappas’ family when I was in high school in Manchester, and endorsed his candidacy for Congress in this very forum.

That won’t happen again.

I refuse to support someone whose democratic principles appear to have been compromised, especially as Pappas appears to have auctioned himself off to an intolerant government that embraces many Israelis who would challenge Pappas’ own humanity as an LGBTQIA+ person.

Ironically, it was not lost upon most of Tlaib’s supporters, though clearly lost upon Pappas, that on September 22, two weeks before Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a map of “The New Middle East” during a speech to the UN General Assembly that was absent any references to occupation or Palestine.

Netanyahu flaunted, in a largely empty chamber, a series of maps, including one that did not differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or Gaza.

From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea everything on the maps was Israel, reaffirming, in the minds of many, Netanyahu’s right-wing, ultra-nationalist, commitment to maintaining the longest sustained occupation in the world today — that of the Palestinian people.

From the river to the sea, Netanyahu was saying to the world, all this belongs to Israel.

For the river to the sea, he said, this belongs to me.

Shamefully, Chris Pappas believed him.