Is “From the River to the Sea…” benign, or menacing?

Daylin Leach
5 min readNov 25, 2023

I recently read an interesting quote by John Keating. “No matter what anybody tells you, words can change the world”.

This struck me as profound, although, I must say, that the “No matter what anybody tells you…” part seems to undermine the message. He’s literally telling you not to listen to words because they are meaningless, before telling you how meaningful they are.

Maybe this is why when you look up John Keating on Wikipedia, it gives you listings for a sportscaster, hockey player and Scottish musician. There is no listing for “John Keating: Man who said really profound, internally consistent things that make sense”.

Putting Mr. Keating aside…forever, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the controversial use of the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” used by pro-Palestinian protestors at their rallies.

Those sympathetic to Israel view these words as a call to eliminate the state of Israel at best, and perhaps even a call to genocide. And some pro-Palestinian protestors gleefully agree that this is in fact the intent of the phrase. If anyone doubts this, you have a long, exciting afternoon of YouTube viewing ahead of you!

Some on the Palestinian side however argue that there is no anti-semitic or even anti-Israel motive involved. They provide a much more benign interpretation, saying that the phrase is merely a call for universal freedom for all people on all of the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean sea. And who could be against that?

So who’s right? What does the phrase mean, what is it’s history and what do those chanting it see as the future of the Middle East?

Well, let’s begin with the words themselves. I only remember two things from the “Statutory Interpretation” class I took in law school. The first is that Mindy, the adorable student who sat next to me definitely did NOT want to come over to my apartment to see my Peter Tosh record collection, and that absent any ambiguity in the language, the plain meaning of the text should control how it is interpreted.

In this case, the text does seem to provide some fairly powerful weight to the Israeli side of the argument. After all, a Palestine “from the river to…

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Daylin Leach

Long-time state House and Senate member, author of PA’s Medical Marijuana law, also creator of “shit-gibbon!” Comedian, professor, father of 2 awesome children!