“From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” has the same meaning and connotation as “The South Will Rise Again.” Both slogans are meant to intimidate a specific ethnic minority, whitewash crimes against humanity, and perpetuate a sense of unfair grievance.
As antisemitism rises around the world, and particularly in the West, many pro-Israel activists and Jews have become concerned over how to combat it. While some large organizations have dedicated their time towards combating ultranationalist, radical Christian antisemitism found on the political right, Islamism and Neo-Marxist antisemitism have increasingly manifested themselves on the political left. Arguing over which form is more common or dangerous is a waste of time and a moot point, as antisemitism from all of these sectors is rising and poses a grave threat to the State of Israel and global Jewry. Indeed, as I have noted in other publications, the three forms of antisemitism often share and use the same sinister language when describing Jews or Zionism. Disturbingly, slogans like “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” have been labeled as progressive. Yet in an era of “anti-racist work” and deeper “unpacking” of the meanings of such passionate, ethnic-centered chants, the comparison to the White Supremacist slogan “The South Will Rise Again” has not been made.
The history, meanings, and ultimate goal of these two slogans—despite one being affiliated with extremist Christian, White Ultranationalism and the other with Marxist or Islamic radicalism— intersect far more often than modern scholars have noticed or care to admit.
Slogans of Intimidation
“From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.” “The South Will Rise Again.” Upon first glance, one might not associate these two slogans with each other. Yet they have more in common than one might think. Despite containing only a few words per sentence, these slogans portray the following: the loss of an alleged civilization, rhetoric of intimidation towards a victimized ethnic minority, and a sense of having been wronged by more power and sinister forces. The “[Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” phrase is meant to invoke progressive sentiment. The phrase introduces the audience to the idea that there is a nation called Palestine, which has wrongfully been jailed, controlled, or otherwise made to not be free. It states with certainty that one day there shall only be an entity known as Palestine in this geographical area— in other words, there is no room for compromise, and no room for recognizing another claim to the land by others. It is stated with comfortability that this is the ultimate goal, and there is a permanent determination to make this happen. Interestingly, despite the fact that there’s no mention of Jews or Israel in the sentence, it’s inherently directed at Jews and Israelis. The slogan is meant to imply that Israel (and therefore, Jewish claims to the land) is illegitimate; that it will not last; and that Palestinians will primarily use violent means to achieve their goal. The goal, of course, includes ethnic cleansing and genocide, as well as the destruction or appropriation of Jewish historic and religious sites. Implicit in this slogan, and ideology, is that Jews are an inferior people—indeed, not even a nation—that cannot be allowed to “dominate” the Islamic ummah or Arab nation. It also forces Jews and Zionists to remember the time when they were a subjugated minority, able to be discriminated against freely.
Similarly, the phrase “the South Will Rise Again” demonstrates a theme of an unnatural order. It suggests that the US South, once mighty and powerful, was wrongfully subjugated due to sinister forces. Those who use the phrase often refer to the US Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression,” suggesting that the Confederacy was an innocent victim of a brutal surprise attack that annihilated their means of enrichment and way of life. Despite the fact that this war ended 168 years ago, the idea that the Confederacy was unfairly destroyed and will someday return still has a grip on radical elements of US Southern society. “The South Will Rise Again” is not just used to mean to intimidate African-Americans, reminding them of their inferior status and the state violence employed against them with impunity by White American racists. Disturbingly, the point must be made that this slogan calls into question the loyalty of those who utter it. Insisting that the US South will “rise again” sounds much like a call for the resumption of civil war and a hoped-for-victory by the secessionist cause. Of course, this can also be compared to how some among the Arab-Israeli population (as well as some Palestinians) are committed to terror or extremist ideology rather than reconciliation.
Erasure of Responsibility–and Defeat
Thomas Dixon Jr. was born in 1864 and died in 1946. Although he is known for being a Baptist preacher, politician, lawyer and lecturer, he also was involved in creating White Supremacist films, plays and novels. Dixon was involved in the creation of the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith, who collaborated on the film with Dixon, noted that “Dixon’s vicious version of the idea that blacks had caused the Civil War by their very presence, and that Northern radicalism during Reconstruction failed to understand that freedom had ushered blacks as a race into barbarism, neatly framed the story of the rise of heroic vigilantism in the South.” In the case of the Middle East, the 1936-39 Arab Revolt in Mandatory Palestine was blamed by the Arab population on increased Jewish immigration. These are just two of the examples of a failure to take responsibility by the Palestinian national movement as well as the Confederacy. There are, however, many more–which underlines the idea of how central this revisionism is to each cause.
The Palestinian narrative loves to highlight the Balfour Declaration of 1917 as the beginning of al-Nakba, an Arabic term meaning “the Catastrophe.” A common phrase used by Palestinian ultranationalists when referring to this document is “the promise of those who don’t own [the British] to those who do not deserve [Jews].” The Palestinian Authority–with the support of their allies–have sought to force Britain to apologize for issuing the declaration, to no avail. This is further testament of Ramallah blaming their problems on foreign powers rather than their own intransigence; failing to accept responsibility for rejecting every peace deal; and refusing to acknowledge the war crimes committed by Palestinians and other Arabs against Jewish communities throughout the Middle East. Instead, the responsibility for the conflict is dumped on the Israeli government, Zionism, and the British. The erasure of the agreement between King Faisal and Chaim Weizmann or the indigeneity of the Jewish people to Mandatory Palestine is both a tactic of the Palestinian national movement and a delusional nostalgia for something that never was. This has resulted in the continued delegitimization of Jews and Zionism in both international fora and scholarly circles. This is not a unique case, as such revisionism took hold across the Atlantic with the so-called Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The pseudo-historical Lost Cause myth portrays the traitorous Confederate rebellion as a just cause of self-defense. The Lost Cause movement–upheld by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans–promotes the idea of Southern honor and virtue being exterminated by a militarily-inferior and expansionist Northern Army. This is a fantasy, of course, but one that especially gained traction during the Reconstruction era and the Civil Rights Movement. Once again, the responsibility for war is pushed on others. The underlying theme for
Neo-Confederates and Palestinian ultranationalists is one of a pure, unsullied society made to suffer egregious injustice at the hands of foreign outsiders. Not one inch is to be given in this narrative–the Confederacy and the Palestinian national movement can never be said to have done any wrong, or else such a myth will shatter under the weight of historical record.
A second element of these twin movements is the denial or purposeful forgetting of defeat. As mentioned above, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy claimed (with no basis in historical record) that its rebel force was tactically superior and more honorable compared to the Union Army. While generally those who win conflicts are said to write history, some argue that the American Civil War and the Palestinian conflict are two outliers. In the former, the Northerners sought to rebuild a devastated country and economy and reunify the American people. An outright destruction of the South and its narrative was not an attractive option. An aggrieved South, on the other hand, felt that change and civil rights were coming too quickly, and never truly accepted its defeat. Instead, Southern society found ways to excuse their loss and push propaganda justifying the war or “rebelling” against Reconstruction through propaganda and delegitimization. For a century, this tactic worked, delaying the true implementation of civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities. The reverberations of this are still felt in today’s US political divide. The same can be said for the Arab World. The 1948 and 1956 Israeli victories were viewed as aberrations–an insult to Arab honor that was only due to Western military aid (which was, compared to nowadays, nearly nonexistent). Even after sustaining enormous military losses in the opening days of the Six-Day War, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser stated on the radio airwave that Zionism was facing massive setbacks. Even today, Egypt embarrassingly continues to claim that it won the 1973 war against Israel. The Palestinians also hold the view that they will be “steadfast” (sumud) until their ultimate victory, believing Zionism to be akin to the temporary Crusader occupation of the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, Israel has modeled itself after other democracies, seeking to avoid imposing its will entirely on the Palestinians through brute force for the sake of one day reaching peace. The intransigence of Neo-Confederacy and Palestinian ultranationalism has roots in a failure to embrace modern, democratic liberal norms and accept defeat. The lasting legacy we see today can be found in the likes of David Duke-style politics or the UNRWA refugee issue.
The Myth of the Loss of “Civilization”
When discussing the Zionist cause, Palestinians and their supporters often claim that they’ve been made to suffer for the sins of Europe. In this narrative, their country, way of life, and indeed, civilization, were stolen from them by the British to make up for centuries of European antisemitism. Some even claim that Western support of Zionism is rooted in antisemitism–it is a way for Europe and America to rid themselves of unwanted Jews and fulfill an evangelical Christian prophecy. The Palestinians have gone on to claim that Jewish holy sites in Mandatory Palestine had an “Islamic, Palestinian Arab heritage” and have even culturally appropriated the histories of other groups (Philistines and Canaanites) as part of an alleged “historic Palestinian civilization” that was settler-colonized. Other scholars have gone so far as to say that “Palestinian Jews” lived in harmony with Christian and Muslim Palestinians–claiming that these Jews are simply Arabs of the Jewish faith. This school of thought further preaches that “Palestinian Jews” would be welcome in a secular binational state, and were indeed welcomed during the British occupation–their problem, it is stated, is mainly with Ashkenazi immigrants. In later years, this discrimination would be passed along to Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry as well.
This, along with the erasure of Mizrahi & Sephardic Jews when discussing Israel as a “settler-colonial Western project,” demonstrated that the issue is with Jewish indigeneity and liberation as a whole, rather than “only foreign” Jews.
Carefully-constructed images of an imagined past have begun to make their way into historical societies, scholarly organizations, and even school curricula–of the olive farmer, the thobe-wearing peasant woman, and the romanticized fedayeen (terrorists) cleansing their lands from Zionism and British imperialism. While some of this seems laughable to trained historians and educators, images are a powerful way of constructing a cause–the injustice of a lost and stolen civilization. And it is here, once again, that the Palestinian case echoes that of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.
The Antebellum Imagination similarly used images of a destroyed noble civilization as a perverse way of both trying to “make peace” with the North while also playing victim to unjustifiable aggression. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was romanticized in a similar way as the fedayeen–their role of terrorizing and murdering civilians was replaced and justified. In the case of the KKK, these armed hooligans were merely “defending the honor of the South from African domination.” The Confederacy as a whole was painted as a noble society of magnolia trees, slaves that happily served their masters, religious and hard-working farmers, and sophisticated yet ladylike Southern belles. As mentioned above, the Antebellum Imagination portrays the American Civil War as a rape of Southern society–its utter and complete destruction and transformation from a wealthy and influential portion of the United States into an impoverished and belittled backwater.
Both of these imagined national histories purposely use specific images designed to draw sympathy from indifferent, naive, uninformed, or humanitarian-minded audiences: virtuous women, natural beauty, and innocuous farmers. The White Antebellum South and Arab-majority Palestine (Ottoman and British alike) are presented as virgin civilizations–unspoilt by Western or Jewish intrusion and not tainted by “threatening Blackness” or “greedy Northerners.” Instances of discrimination against minorities are treated as “unfortunate” yet a rare aberration. This is false, of course, but the damage is done, and those with good intentions but a lack of historical knowledge have been entranced by propaganda. They now feel that something unjust has happened and must be rectified.
Intent of Aggression
As if it weren’t obvious enough, these movements have no intention of truly forging peace or engaging in reconciliation. The erasure and falsification of history–including their own wrongdoings–is just one indication. Yet another is the violent intimidation employed to silence their critics. The most common chants known by Jews are the “khaybar, khaybar” chants, and “there is only one solution: intifada, revolution!” The first chant is one referring to the conquest by Mohammed of Khaybar, a town populated by Jews in the Arabian Peninsula. Since they refused to submit to Mohammed, the Jews were deemed “treasonous” and slaughtered. The modern-day evocation of this is to remind Jews that “the army of Mohammed is coming” to destroy Jewry throughout the world, and intimidate them into remembering their subservient place. The second chant is one glorifying the “Palestinian revolution” known as the intifada. The Arabic word, meaning “shaking off” or “uprising,” was used to refer to two waves of violence. The first, from 1987 until the 1993 Oslo Accords, and the more violent 2000-05 Second Intifada. It is widely believed that, collectively, around 1,210 Jews were killed in these two waves of violent, years-long riots. In other words, not only is this chant glorifying these terror campaigns as “revolution,” but is signaling that yet another one is on the way, and is the only solution to the conflict. As mentioned above, with the quote that the land was given to those “not deserving” of it (Jews), this all plays into the dehumanization of Jews–the denial of their indigeneity (history and culture), of their existence (particularly Ethiopian, Mizrahi/Sephardic, and Soviet immigrants when it comes to the narrative of ‘Zionist settler-colonialism’), and a true reconciliation. The words “those not deserving” of the land are used simply because those in question are Jews–they are to be forever ruled by Arab Muslims, because their land was subsumed by the Arab Conquest. They are a subservient population by nature, in this narrative, who can either live as second-class citizens without sovereignty, or face the sword. This is where the fusion of Islamist ideology has fused with Arab (in this case, Palestinian) ultranationalism– the modern situation.
This is not unlike the Lost Cause of the Confederacy’s views of African-Americans. They were seen as “servile in nature” and not intelligent enough to know who to vote for in elections. Giving the Black population the right to vote would result in societal chaos, as they were easily bribed, according to Antebellum Imaginists. Furthermore, a radical Christian element was added to this pseudo-history. Southern society was portrayed as extremely pious and churchgoing, with those who disobeyed the Reconstruction “regime” deemed to be “redeemers.” Southern Whites during the Reconstruction era mourned a “triumph of evil over good” in a case of “holy war.”
The framing of this conflict as one with religious elements also justifies violence against “collaborators” and “scalawags” (Southern Whites who opposed slavery). This is meant to prevent reconciliation and progress towards peace, while using the Bible or Koran as a weapon of intimidation to silence those questioning a “holy war.” Another intersection between Neo- Confederates and Palestinian ultranationalists is the idea of the Replacement Theory. White Supremacists waving Nazi and Confederate banners in 2017 were remembered for chanting “Jews will not replace us.” This is the same slogan that the Palestinian movement has used regarding the Zionist cause–particularly with the false “loss of land” map employed by many pro-Palestinian activists seeking to make common cause with aboriginal peoples around the world.
A common phrase used today is that “silence is violence,” with the suggestion that words can be used as a form of nonviolent protest. This is a very simplified statement that ignores reality. The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, along with the Palestinian ultranationalist movement, uses what I call Memory Terrorism and Terrorem Verbis (terror by words). Memory Terrorism is used through pseudo-history and gaslighting. The creation of a false historical narrative– an alternative fact–to discredit the ideological opponent (African-Americans, Jews, Zionists, and the Union), take on the image of a pious and innocent victim, and make the cause seem just. The portrayal of the Antebellum South and Ottoman or Mandatory Palestine as an unspoiled paradise violently exterminated through foreign, barbaric aggression whitewashes the experiences of minorities (Black Americans and Jews) who suffered under a discriminatory majority-led regime. It causes emotional pain and deep frustration while silencing trained historians through infiltration into educational and governmental bodies. This was the case with the late Reconstruction Period at the dawn of the 20th Century–an era when Black Americans were supposed to achieve equality, yet would not until over a century after the US Civil War. It is also the case today, when Jewish people in the diaspora are often ‘canceled’ or alienated on campus or in the workplace due to the growing acceptance of this myth. Incredibly, history is inverted through the normalization and use of terms such as the “War of Northern Aggression” or “al-Nakba (he Catastrophe) ” to describe events that would otherwise seem just and liberatory. Terrorem Verbis is a related strategy with some distinctions. While Memory Terrorism definitely affects the minority it is targeting, it is used more towards an audience that is largely disconnected from the conflict–one that may be unaware of the history or who are inclined to believe this narrative because of their tendency to side with what they view as ‘social justice’.
Terrorem Verbis is used to remind minorities of “their place,” violently intimidate them, normalize terrorism, and warn that aggression is going to continue until this mythical and defeated “civilization” can be fulfilled. With the case of Neo-Confederates, the phrase “the South Will Rise Again” is the best example that can be used, although the more symbolic and physical hanging of nooses near spaces where Black university students reside and study is certainly a related trend. Regarding Jews and Zionism, the common phrase used is “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.” This phrase also is reminiscent of the past threats by Arab Nationalism to “throw the Jews into the sea,” as if they were rats fleeing a ship–itself an antisemitic dog-whistle. As we will soon mark three decades since the signing of the Oslo Accords, and as Neo-Confederacy gains traction in some places in the US, it is becoming crucial to re-examine the legacy of these conflicts not as over land, but about upholding ethnic supremacist ideology. The first step is to see the signs and make the connections of this disturbing intersectionality. The next is to call it out for exactly what it is–a myth that can easily be refuted through historical record.