‘From the river to the sea …’

By Chicago 6 Min Read

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is often heard at rallies supposedly supporting the Palestinian people. While many believe it’s a code for genocide — they’re basically saying, “Let’s kill the Jews and take over Israel” — I include the word “supposedly” because someone should consider its effect on Palestinians.

Belief they are entitled to all of Israel is what kept them, tragically, from accepting past peace deals that fell short of the Israelis handing over the keys to the country and then magically vanishing.

It’s what inspires the charmed notion that Israel, one of the most advanced militaries in the world, will be defeated through a series of terror attacks, even one as severe as Oct. 7.

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It’s a mindset that discourages Palestinians from creating a nation where they are — why stay jammed in the West Bank and Gaza when the wide sweep of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is theirs for the taking? Though if we look at history — a handy guide — for the first 20 years of Israel’s existence, it didn’t possess sections its people highly desired, such as Jerusalem, but the Israelis built their country anyway.

Because of that attitude, for all the heartbreaking death and suffering being inflicted by Israel on Gaza, appeals for a ceasefire are directed at Israel and not at Hamas. Surrender is not an option.

  • What does ‘From the river to the sea’ mean to Palestinians, Jews?

That’s a shame. Surrender is underrated. Look at Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II got World War I going by sending his troops into Belgium on their way to France, which the Germans always fancied they deserved (“From the Atlantic to the Rhine, France shall be mine …” — not quite as catchy). The four-year bloodletting cost 20 million lives.

Germany gave up in 1918 but didn’t really surrender — the position the Palestinians keep finding themselves in. The Germans decided they didn’t lose because of all those American doughboys. No, they had been betrayed, stabbed in the back — by the Jews, natch.

In that frame of mind, after 20 years spent siring a new generation of cannon fodder and rebuilding its military, Germany tried again.

World War II cost over 50 million lives — 15 million military deaths and at least 38 million civilians, because civilians always take the brunt of war. It didn’t start in Gaza. After World War II ended with their complete defeat, again, the Germans looked over the ruin of their once prosperous nation and did something surprising: They learned. They decided to surrender sincerely this time. They gave up their dream of possessing the Sudetenland. They stopped fighting and endured seven whole years of Allied occupation.

The Germans got their nation back, eventually. Not as big as they’d like. France stayed French. But they still thrived and became the prosperous nice guys of Europe.

I think about Germany’s odyssey while gazing in horror at the bloodletting that Israel is inflicting on Gaza. The Palestinians allow themselves to be proxies — the Iranians supply the weapons, and the Palestinians give up their lives. Earnest undergraduate protesters safe in cities around the world chant the framework for future suicidal runs at Israel, which has proven itself a tough enemy to defeat.

Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon all figured this out. You’ll notice they’re sitting on the sidelines, inert, mum.

Sure, the Palestinians have the right to “resist,” but to Hamas that means slaughtering anybody they get their hands on. But it would also be the Palestinians’ right to start their own nation in the space they have, accept all those billions that would gratefully flow in and try to get back the parts Israel nibbled away later. It took half a century to get East Germany back.

I have no animus here. People are people. There’s plenty of responsibility for all parties involved. I tend to blame Israeli incompetence more than I fault Hamas for doing what terrorists do. Because I expect more of Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu let this happen. And now that it’s happening, awful as it is, remember it’ll end, eventually. Then what?

Forgiveness is possible. Germany welcoming a million Muslim refugees was karmic penance for the millions of Jews and others murdered in the Holocaust. I wish Hamas would understand that trying to kill their way out of this fix keeps blowing back on them in a bad way. Have they considered trying to peace their way out? Or does that seem crazy? Maybe it is.

  • STEINBERG: How does the Israel-Palestine conflict end?
  • STEINBERG: Where do Jews belong?
  • STEINBERG: Think before becoming the monster
  • READ: More coverage of the Israel-Hamas war in the Sun-Times

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