From the River to the Sea and the Alleged Proposed Genocide – Why We Urgently Need De-Zionisation

Pro-Palestine activists in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo: Becker1999, via Wikimedia Commons)

By David Miller

Calling for the dismantling of Zionism is not calling for the extermination of the Jews. Nor is it  even calling for the extermination of Zionists.

The pearl clutching and Zionist propaganda lines associated with the slogan ‘From The River to the Sea: Palestine Will be Free”’ is indicative of the lack of serious debate and activist culture in the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe and, to some extent, the United States. But with the rash of student occupations and encampments, this may be changing.

According to Zionist talking points ‘From the river to the Sea…’  is a statement which aims to destroy the ‘State of Israel’ and is genocidal because any such action would inevitably involve the genocide of the Jews in ‘Israel’. Large sections of the political mainstream go along with this nonsense either because they believe it, because they think it’s in their interests or  because they are bullied and intimidated into it by the Zionists.

For example the New York Times reported,

“The official congressional rebuke of Ms. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, said the phrase was ‘widely recognized as a genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel.’ The top White House spokeswoman disavowed it from the West Wing, saying that it was “divisive” and that many considered it hurtful and antisemitic.

“The phrase, which Ms. Tlaib has defended as ‘an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction or hate’.”

In the UK the Guardian reported:

“The home secretary, Suella Braverman, tweeted after recent UK protests – in which thousands chanted ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ – that the slogan was ‘widely understood as a demand for the destruction of Israel’. She added: ‘Attempts to pretend otherwise are disingenuous’.

“Hers is a commonly held view, albeit one that is vigorously countered by those who regard such characterisations as an attempt to close down debate.

“In 2021, the Palestinian-American writer Yousef Munayyer argued that those who saw genocidal ambition in the phrase… did so due to their own Islamophobia.

It was instead, he argued, merely a way to express a desire for a state in which ‘Palestinians can live in their homeland as free and equal citizens, neither dominated by others nor dominating them’.”

But, in truth,  the slogan absolutely does mean the ending of Israel as a state form, the dismantling of the “Jewish state”. The reason is that it is impossible for Palestinians to live as “free and equal” citizens without the creation of a new state in which such desires can actually be accommodated.

But does the “destruction” or “dismantling” of the “State of Israel” mean genocide of the Jews? It should be obvious that it does not and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. It means the dismantling of a state form established by Zionists. Even if many people died in such a process this would not be a genocide against the Jews since there is no evidence that anyone wants to kill the Jews as Jews as opposed to wanting to end the structural oppression that the “state of Israel” brings with it.

In the end, though ‘From the river to the sea…’  is a very anodyne chant and is far less militant than the routine chants heard outside the west. However, in some parts of the West, for example in the explosion of student activism in the US, chants are getting more radical.  

At the Columbia protests the other day in New York, protestors could be heard doing contemporary versions of the Vietnam war era classic ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh’.

“Al-Qassam, make us proud, take another soldier now!”

“We say justice! You say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!”

“Hamas we love you. We support your rockets too!”

“Red, black, green and white, we support Hamas’ fight!”

“It is right to rebel, Al-Qassam give them hell!”

“It is right to rebel, Hamas, Hamas give them hell!”

This kind of Free Palestine obviously does envisage the end of the Zionist colony. And it envisages that there may (regrettably) be casualties in that process. But it is not a call to kill all Zionists, far less all Jews, or indeed any Jews as ‘Jews’.

Outside the West, similar sentiments can be heard all over the world.  These are not the the milquetoast, Zionist-vetted slogans one encounters in the UK, for example.

They are very straightforward: “We are the men of Mohammed al-Deif”, “Onwards O Hamas”, and “Strike, strike, Tel Aviv”.

It is instructive that in writing for an English speaking audience I perhaps need to explain that Mohamed al-Deif is the head of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement known in Arabic as Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya.

In the Anglophone world this is almost universally denoted as Hamas, a term which is made to stand in for the government of Gaza, all of the Palestinian resistance factions or indeed all Palestinians. It should be noted that there are more than six Palestinian factions currently active in Gaza, each of which has its own military wing, to say nothing of the West Bank and elsewhere.

These slogans that openly support the resistance are not surprising. And some have compared the situation with previous resistance struggles. For example, as Marc Owen Jones argued:

Did people ever question what ‘Free Mandela’ meant in the same way some people try to question what “Free Palestine” means? Did anyone think Free Mandela was a coded message to kill all white people?

But of course there were elements of the liberation movement in South Africa who did advocate armed struggle. Nelson Mandela was famously not just one of them, but a leader of the movement which launched an armed struggle via Umkhonto we Sizwe, the Spear of the Nation, which was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). Its name was often abbreviated to MK.

The legacy of the armed struggle of the ANC is today bitterly contested in the new South Africa. At the end of April this year  the ruling ANC lost a court battle over the name of a rival political party.  The ANC “had argued that uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), headed by ex-President Jacob Zuma, had breached trademark law.”

Zuma had been a member of the original MK and served as President of South Africa for nine years, initially as a representative of the ANC. The point is that the political symbolism of resistance is inherently contested including even by political factions that used to be on the same side in the resistance. It also varies over time, and is likely to be used in attempted propaganda operations especially, but not only, by representatives of state oppression whether they be Apartheid era South African officials or the Zionist regime.

It is worth considering a further South African example.  During the struggle against Apartheid there, there were parts of the resistance which were more radical than the ANC and its armed wing. They did not call for the elimination of ‘all white people’, but they did nevertheless also envisage armed struggle against settler power. The slogan of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army which was the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was famously ‘One Settler, One Bullet’. While this was, reportedly, never officially adopted by the PAC, it has not disappeared into the mists of time.  

In 2020, the South African Human Rights Commission took the Pan Africanist Congress to court over the slogan. Which it was alleged was used in the context of a protest “against alleged racial segregation” at a school in South Africa – that is against settler racism.  Chris Swepu, Secretary General of the Azanian People’s Organisation denounced this action by the SAHRC.

It is indeed shocking that the Human Rights Commission chooses  to attack our heritage in this way. If you read their court papers they are acting on behalf of some white supremacist … trying to eradicate … the heritage of our struggle of our struggle for land repossession. They are saying that the PAC must remove from all its social media the slogan one settler one bullet. We are shocked that the South African Human Rights Commission should act this way. That Commissioners all the way in the commission they know our pain and suffering they know that these slogans have been declared by courts to be part of our heritage why they act this way… is beyond us.

The problem of course is that in the universal language of human rights, it is all too easy to equate a racist system of oppression with resistance against it.  This is all too evident in relation to discussions about the genocide in Gaza. The other day I was called ‘essentially a Nazi’ for discussing the ending of Zionism. I get similar attacks from Zionists all the time. But they cannot survive encounters with salient facts such as: Not every Jew is  either a Zionist or a racist genocidaire.

Calling for the dismantling of Zionism is not calling for the extermination of the Jews. Nor is it  even calling for the extermination of Zionists.

Some proposed actions that follow from this are that it is perfectly reasonable to call for the dismantling of Zionism, an irreducibly racist and genocidal ideology.

But, some may say, how does one dismantle an ideology?

First of all by dismantling the organizational forms that it take. One ends Zionist organizations. This can happen in two ways, either the organization is abolished – as will have to happen to most Zionist organizations.

Most obviously the World Zionist Organization and the other ‘national institutions’ the land theft agency the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency (which encourages settlements and settlers), and the Keren Hayesod (which raises money to pay foreland theft and settlement). And all the affiliates and subsidiaries of the WZO (with the exceptions noted below). To be clear this includes groups and organizations in about 40 countries worldwide.

Or, the organization will need to disaffiliate from the Zionist movement. This could and should be allowed where the organization has some kind of Jewish communal representation function. Most obviously this applies to synagogues, schools, student and youth groups (like the Union of Jewish Students) and the ‘communal organizations’ themselves (the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council in the UK or the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in the US).

Once the organizations are gone we will move on to the more individual level of DeZionisation. Again, this does not involve physically harming, far less ‘exterminating’ Zionists. Rather it is about abolishing the material circumstances that give rise to Zionism (the fact of the Zionist entity or any hope that it could ever be resurrected), after which Zionism would start to disappear. This would need to be accompanied by a re-education program designed to ameliorate the most toxic effects of the continued existence of Zionist ideas.

None of this is simple, nor will it be accomplished easily. But there are precedents for ending the practical power of racist settler colonial ideologies in other settler societies. They vary in the amount and intensity of violence associated with them. Examples include Algeria, Ireland, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

In every case the record of killing and violence was massively disproportionate with the natives taking by far the brunt of torture, ethnic cleansing and killing. To the extent that genocide occurred it was never against the settler/occupier but always against the natives/colonised.

Estimates of casualties vary, but they agree on the disproportion in each case:

Were we to accept the figures of dead given by the Zionist regime for Al-Aqsa Flood, which have been repeatedly debunked, we can see very clearly that there has been a massive disproportion in deaths since then  – something like 30-4o times the casualties have been caused by the Zionists.

So, I don’t think we need to listen to lectures from genocidal fanatics like Jeffrey Zimmerman, an attorney based in the United States.

And I think – contra Mr Zimmerman – that the movement for Palestinian liberation could, should and shall ‘push it’.

– David Miller is a non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Islam and Global Affairs at Istanbul Zaim University and a former Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bristol. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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1 Comment

  1. One minor suggestion – following the unsettled 60s and 70s, the Powers-The-Be drew up a number of anti-terrorism treaties. They were aimed at the PLO amongst other non-state actors. But, it can be argued, the United States and Israel and all their support goons, are breaking every one of them when it comes to Israel in the West Bank, Israel in Gaza, and Israel against its own Palestinian citizens. If Jordan, or Egypt, or the entire Arab League, for example, were to commission a legal study of this question – to what degree are the US and Israel in material breach of the anti-terrorism treaties of the UN and other groups – it would de-legitimize the US and Israel.

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