Dutch establishment and right-wing censors the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free’

Recently, the Dutch House of Representatives passed a motion moved by the right-wing party JA21 condemning the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free’ as inciting violence. However, progressive sections and protesters continue to champion the slogan as a symbol of justice and the struggle of the Palestinian people

November 03, 2023 by Harry O
A protest in the Netherlands against the Israeli attack on Gaza. Photo: Photo: Robin van Lonkhuijzen

The slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free’ has led to turmoil in the Dutch parliament. Dutch parliamentarians who spoke up for Palestinian rights have been censored.

The slogan has a long history and has become one of the main slogans of the international movement campaigning to stop Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza.

Demonstrators use the phrase to express their support for the Palestinian fight against oppression, dispossession, and discrimination in the whole of historic Palestine — the area between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea which includes the colonial settler State of Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In several countries in Europe, the slogan is banned. Recently, during a debate in parliament on the situation in West Asia, one of the far-right parties, JA21, submitted a motion that condemned the slogan and termed it an “incitement to violence.”

During the discussion that followed, Stephan van Baarle, the leader of DENK, a party which has a strong following among migrants from Turkey and Morocco, said he will not be censored and explained that the words express the need for a state that includes the whole area between the river and the sea with equal rights for everyone. DENK is a breakaway from the Social Democratic Labour Party of The Netherlands.

However, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Vera Bergkamp from one of the four conservative parties in the ruling coalition, said that she will stop anyone from using the words ‘From the river to the sea…” Equal rights for everyone is apparently unbearable for her.

Sylvana Simons, the lone MP from the anti-colonial leftwing Bij1 Party, then took the floor and quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had said during the inauguration of his government in 2022 that Israel will annex the whole area between the river and the sea except for Gaza. At least, that is what she wanted to say but the Speaker turned off Simons’ microphone.

The discussion ended with a vote in which JA21’s motion was accepted. It’s not quite clear what the consequences of the motion are outside of parliament because just a few months earlier, a judge ruled that the slogan is not unlawful and can’t be seen as “threatening, inflammatory or as hate speech.”

When on October 15 around 20,000 people demonstrated in Amsterdam against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, Amsterdam Mayor and Green Party member Femke Halsema said that the slogan was “unacceptable.” Still it was one of the most heard slogans at that demonstration and no one got arrested for that.

Meanwhile Bij1 keeps protesting against the censorship in parliament and has beamed the slogan on the Mauritshuis museum which is next door to the office of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

In a statement, BIJ1 said: “Every human life lost is one too many. That is why BIJ1 believes that the root of the problem must be looked at: the colonial occupation of Palestine, resulting in the genocide in Gaza.”

“The projection of the slogan implies our wish for a free Palestine, in which every resident from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea has equal rights. Regardless of skin color, nationality, religion or culture. That is what BIJ1 means by radical equality.”