The slogan...


is not a simple call for peace

A map of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank with the Jordan River shown on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. The map illustrates what is the "River" and "Sea" in the the slogan, "From the river to the sea..."

To start, lets make it clear that our desire is to see both Palestinians and Israelis live with self-determination and to be free of terrorism and suffering. We do not wish to silence Palestinian voices seeking peace. However, this slogan is not helping achieve a peaceful outcome and instead generates a toxic environment for many Jewish students, staff and faculty on campus. Here we will explain why.

Let's dissect the slogan. “The River” is the Jordan River. “The Sea” is the Mediterranean. Between these lies the State of Israel and the two Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank. The slogan began as a call to recognize the entire region from the Jordan to the Mediterranean as a single Palestinian state in which the State of Israel no longer exists.

Calling for a single state in this region, whether that be Palestinian or Jewish, polarizes the conflict and instead hinders progress towards a peaceful two-state resolution where both the Palestinian and Jewish nations, each indigenous to the Middle East, can live in their own states with self-determination.

What does it mean to call for a single Palestinian state "from the river to the sea"? The full intent is captured by two variations of the slogan used in Arabic. These translate as "From the water to the water, Palestine is Arab" and "From the water to the water, Palestine is Islamic". By using this slogan in their charter Hamas and some other Palestinian groups have indicated their determination to see the entire region become Islamic by removing millions of Jews from the region through extermination or deportation. Either way that is genocide and calling for it has no place on campus.

But not everyone who chants this slogan is aware of the original meaning, and alternative meanings have sprung up. Some users of the slogan say they are calling for a single binational state from the river to the sea. Such a state would render Jews a minority and take away their right to self-determination in the only existing Jewish nation state.

Some counter that when they chant this slogan their intended meaning has nothing to do with political states, but rather with the people. It is a call for Arab peoples to be free with equal rights regardless of whether they exist in the two Palestinian territories or as citizens inside Israel’s borders (where Arab Israelis do recieve full rights as full citizens). It is simply a call for Palestinian freedom. But the wording of the slogan does not mention Palestinians, it mentions Palestine, a geographic region. This is why the wording of the slogan is problematic regardless of the users personal intent.

Jewish students, staff and faculty who interpret this chant as highly threatening are not being paranoid. Consider that a recent poll conducted by the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) found that three quarters of Palestinians supported “a Palestinian state from the river to the sea.” That was the exact wording of the poll option. Palestinians chose this over options of a two state or a single binational state for both peoples. Hamas's Oct 7 terrorist attack was the most recent attempt to rid Jews of their homeland. While you may personally envision a message of peace when you chant this slogan and its sister slogan "Globalize the Intifada", many Jews will understandably interpret these as support for the Oct 7 massacre.

How this affects campus

This slogan, when voiced on campus can significantly affect the sense of security and belonging of Jewish students, staff and faculty. The feeling of being targeted or ostracized for one’s national or religious identity is contrary to the principles of a safe and inclusive learning environment that universities strive to uphold.

How do you feel when you hear this slogan on campus?

"When I hear 'from the river to the sea' in a pro-Palestine demonstration, I hear a direct threat to the Jewish people living in Israel. This is not a call for peace between Arabs and Jews in the region, this is not a call for a two state solution. It is a call for more horrible massacres against Israeli Jews, just as Hamas is threatening, until none of the survivors will dare to stay there."
-- Jewish Student (University of Toronto)

"I heard the phrase chanted at a demonstration on Bloor-Yonge on October 8th, a day after the horrific attack on Israel, when the dead were still being counted. When I hear it on campus, I do not hear a call for peace and freedom but a call for the destruction of the state of Israel."
-- Jewish Professor (University of Toronto)

"When I lived in Israel, I experienced a multicultural mix of different ethnic groups. In addition to Jews, the Druze, Bedouin, Christian Arabs and other Muslim Arabs all interacted, partaking in democratic politics. Many of these groups served in the army. 'From the River to the Sea' sounds like a call to eradicate this multicultural diversity that is Israel."
-- Postdoc (University of Toronto)

"Hearing the phrase on campus makes me concerned for my safety. When I hear this phrase I think of the 1948 war where six Arab armies attacked the newly declared State of Israel from the north, the east and the south and litterally tried to force Jews out from the Jordan river into the Mediterranean."
-- Jewish Professor (University of Toronto)