VICTORY: “From the river to the sea” is protected speech, Dutch court rules!Published on Wed Oct 18 2023
At a time when expressions of support for the Palestinian cause are facing criminalisation at utterly unprecedented levels across Europe, we draw attention to the Dutch court ruling: “From the river to the sea” fully legitimate!
After a Dutch activist gave a speech at a Palestine solidarity rally in May 2021 in Amsterdam, he was reported to the police by a supporter of Israel for ‘inciting hatred and violence against Jews’ by shouting ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ and expressing support for ‘Palestinian resistance’.
The Dutch public prosecutor, however, refused to prosecute the activist, saying that the pro-Palestinian slogans he used are ‘are subject to various interpretations’ rather than calls for illegal conduct. The prosecutor added that they found the expressions ‘to relate to the state of Israel and possibly to people with Israeli citizenship, but do not relate to Jews because of their race or religion’.
What was the role of the ELSC?
After the prosecutor refused to prosecute the activist, the pro-Israel individual complained to the Amsterdam Court of Appeal against the prosecutor’s decision. This is when the ELSC stepped in and helped the activist find a lawyer from our network, Willem Jebbink. We also provided an academic expert to assist the lawyer in writing a defence statement. After more than two years, on the 15th of August, the court confirmed that the activist had not committed a criminal offence when chanting the slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. The court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
Why is this an important victory?
Some European states have weaponised the events of October 7th, 2023, enforcing unprecedented levels of repression against the Palestine solidarity movement in Europe. We are witnessing extraordinary restrictions being imposed on virtually all expressions of solidarity: Palestinian flags and kuffiyeh scarves are being banned and protest rallies are being systematically prohibited. The slogan ‘from the river to the sea’ is also increasingly being used as justification for repression on the false premise that it incites violence against the Jewish people.
The strategy behind portraying this slogan as antisemitic is to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism and silence discussion around and advocacy for the Palestinian cause. ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ holds incredible significance to all Palestinians because it reaffirms the right of return, the liberation of Palestine and freedom for the Palestinian people. It represents a political manifesto increasingly recognised around the world: justice for all Palestinians in historic Palestine and in exile.
In view of Professor Marc Lamont Hill’s dismissal from U.S.-based news network CNN for expressing this very slogan, as well as the prosecution of several activists in Germany for chanting it, which is prohibited under a very limited reading of its significance, we welcome the Dutch court’s decision to protect human rights and political freedoms over Western states’ interests in repressing solidarity!
With our help, this activist won this important legal battle. Both the public prosecutor and the court concluded that the slogan is not punishable and thus not worth prosecuting. This is a victory for all Palestinians and Palestinian rights activists, especially in these times of unprecedented anti-Palestinian racism and repression.
Through collective action, we can succeed. This was only made possible thanks to your continuous support and deep dedication!
As attacks against Palestinian rights advocacy continue in The Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, we invite you to join us in supporting the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Help us defend the right to advocate for justice!
Any donation, large or small, will make a huge difference. We are stronger together!
The ELSC team