Last week, British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi declared the popular chant ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free’ antisemitic. He further implied that chanting it should be considered a criminal offence.
The chant, far from being racist, articulates an aspiration of complete Palestinian liberation. Criminalising such an aspiration is not only draconian but fundamentally anti-Palestinian.
But Zahawi’s comments are not surprising—they were made in a climate of increasing crackdown from the British government on activism supporting Palestinian fundamental rights and liberation, including increased efforts to criminalise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS). Zahawi’s comments and the latest manoeuvres by the British government come at a time when the human rights community is ramping up its support for the Palestinian struggle.
A new report published by Amnesty International condemning the Israeli regime for committing the crime of apartheid from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea was published this morning. Customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as ‘inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’ Although many associate apartheid with South Africa, the definition is universally applicable and is a system that can adopt various characteristics and manifest itself in various ways.
Building on decades of research, including Palestinian lived experiences, the Amnesty report explains in intricate detail how Palestinians are resisting a singular system of domination that operates varying mechanisms and levels of control depending on where Palestinians live. Indeed, it addresses Palestinians in their entirety from the West Bank, Gaza, the ’48 territories, and those in exile. It is this singular system, that seeks to maintain Israeli Jewish hegemony at the expense of the non-Jewish population, that the Amnesty report identifies as apartheid.
As well as looking at each geographic component of the Palestinian people, it also looks at the manifestations of apartheid through various themes—for example, the denial of the right to equal nationality and status. While Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1948 (i.e., Israel) are granted citizenship, they are denied a nationality which in effect establishes a legal differentiation from Jewish Israelis. Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1967 (i.e., the West Bank and Gaza) are not granted citizenship, even though the Israeli regime controls every aspect of their lives, and are considered stateless.