Czech court recognizes the legitimacy of the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free!”

19 Deccember 2023 | Press Release – Not in Our Name! – Initiative for a Just Peace in the Middle East

On December 18, the Municipal Court in Prague ruled in favor of the plaintiff in their legal action against the City of Prague, which had banned a December 5 demonstration demanding the right to use the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” in its non-violent sense. The Court ruled that this slogan cannot be blanketly understood as violent, advocating genocide, or anti-Semitic, and that the City Hall had no right to ban the demonstration. The court found that the demonstrations held in Prague under this slogan did not exhibit signs of extremism, anti-Semitism or support for terrorism.

The Not in Our Name! initiative, which organizes pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Prague and whose supporters include plaintiff Filip Outrata, the convener of the demonstration banned by the City Hall, declares:

  • We welcome the court’s decision, which we see as recognition of the legitimacy of the “From the River to the Sea…” slogan in its non-violent form, namely as a slogan calling for freedom and equality for all people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. We appreciate that the Court, in its independence, carefully considered all the arguments, gave sufficient space for the slogan’s supporters to present their case and delivered a ruling unaffected by the current political climate.
  • We consider it crucial in the court’s ruling that the slogan “From the River to the Sea…” cannot be banned because of alleged “hidden” content. Thus, a slogan calling for freedom cannot be read as an attempt to incite hatred or even advocate genocide. From the outset, we have maintained that we understand the slogan to be emancipatory and inclusive, and we consider it essentially biased and racist to imply other meanings or to suspect Palestinians of hidden agendas and veiled actions. In the past, anti-Semitism relied on a similar prejudice, which also accused Jews of hidden agendas. We reject both anti-Semitism and anti-Arabism or Islamophobia as one and the same kind of hatred.   
  • The court ruled that a slogan cannot automatically be read as anti-Semitic if it is not specifically directed against an ethnic group and its members. We have long pointed out that the slogan, or rather its parts, are older than the current wave of demonstrations, dating from before Israel’s foundation. The Arabic version of the slogan, “from the water to the water” has been part of Arabic folk diction since the 1930s, when it was directed against the British Mandate administration. The Palestinian national resistance movement in the 1960s used the slogan “from the river to the sea” in its struggle against both the military administration in Israel and the autocratic regimes of Egypt and Jordan, which then ruled over Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. Similarly, the meaning of the slogan today is in the struggle for freedom and against the fragmentation of Palestinians across the territory “from the river and the sea”, where only Israel exercises its sovereignty.
  • We understand the fears that the terrorist attacks of October 7 raised in Israeli and Jewish communities, and which were repeatedly put forward in court as the main reason for banning the slogan. We have clearly condemned these unjustifiable massacres of civilians on several occasions, and we continue to do so today. However, one cannot ignore the underlying causes and context of these attacks. We see only one way to prevent similar acts of violence in the future: ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza and the apartheid system throughout historical Palestine. To us, the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” is an expression of the desire to liberate historical Palestine from these forms of oppression and – as a result – to rid it of the fear in which both Palestinians and Jews have lived for decades under Israeli control. As we said in our first statement regarding the slogan, from which the Chief Justice of the Municipal Court quoted, “The notion that the security of Israelis and the freedom of Palestinians are mutually exclusive has been shown time and again to be completely wrong. In fact, one conditions the other, and vice versa: the more Palestinians have to live in unfreedom, maintained with increasing brutality, the less security Israelis have. We are convinced that it is high time to leave behind this delusional logic of violent oppression and violent resistance, which only breeds more unnecessary suffering.”
  • As was argued in court, the slogan “From the River to the Sea…” was not banned immediately after the events of October 7, but only after a time, when solidarity with the people of Gaza was growing around the world. Gazans are dying by the thousands as a result of the Israeli bombardment and ground invasion, entire towns are being demolished and over a million and a half have been forced to flee their homes. Just as the slogan “From the River to the Sea” was labelled anti-Semitic by Israeli propaganda after the 1967 war in an attempt to divert attention from the Jewish settlement of the occupied Palestinian territories, today it is labelled genocidal in an attempt to divert attention from Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip, which may themselves be genocidal in nature

Not in Our Name! – For a Just Peace in the Middle East sees the Czech authorities’ efforts to ban the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” as part of a broader coordinated campaign to suppress the voice of Palestinians in Western societies. The increased interest in an official ban on the slogan comes at a time of unprecedentedly murderous Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and intensifying settler and army violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We see the efforts to ban the slogan as a first step towards banning other symbols and attributes associated with Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and national self-determination, which is recognized by international law as legitimate.

For this reason, we value the decision of the Municipal Court in Prague as groundbreaking and necessary not only in Czech context but also in Europe as a whole.

We dedicate our victory in defending the slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” to the sorely tried Palestinian people and to their hunger for freedom.

Prague, December 19, 2023

Not in Our Name! – For a Just Peace in the Middle East

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