(Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – While the US mainstream media and most political leaders have condemned ceasefire rallies for embracing the cry “from the river to the sea” as being anti-Semitic, the government of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has been openly championing an Israel “from the river to the sea.”
And while ceasefire rallies composed of Palestinians and other supporters, including Jews, have aspirationally chanted “from the river to the sea,” Netanyahu, his cabinet, and religious zealots have been actualizing just such a reality through actions taken and statements made on behalf of the Jewish state. It is an insidious, catastrophic irony, generally ignored by the US press.
After all, in a barely noticed presentation to the UN General Assembly on September 22, Netanyahu displayed a map of the Middle East from “from the river to the sea.” Israel, on the map was expanded to include all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In his remarks that day, Netanyahu referred to the “New Middle East,” which included diplomatic relations with Arab countries, but belittled Palestinians as only 2% of the Arab world. Netanyahu made it clear that Israel need not make peace with the Palestinians if Israel were increasingly recognized by Arab nations. He spoke of peace with Palestinians only as patronizing lip service.
Netanyahu asserted that there could be peace without acknowledging the rights of Palestinians. Indeed, he boasted:
- For years, my approach to peace was rejected by the so-called experts. Well, they were wrong.
Under their approach, we didn’t forge a single peace treaty for a quarter century.
Yet in 2020, under the approach that I advocated, we tried something different, and in no time we achieved a remarkable breakthrough. We achieved four peace treaties working with the United States. Israel forged four peace agreements in four months with four Arab states: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Obviously, he spoke in a self-congratulatory bluster a few days too soon, just shortly before the brutal Hamas massacre of October 7.
Netanyahu’s goal was and is to establish peace with Arab counties (including Saudi Arabia, negotiations which are now on hold), while ether killing off or exiling the residents of the Gaza strip. Meanwhile, the right-wing and religious block are using the IDF to protect settlers while they attack and kill Palestinians, (around 200 since October 7) forcibly removing them from their homes, and cutting down their olive orchards in the West Bank. The next step would be seizing the occupied territory completely and fully incorporating it governmentally into Israel, with the Jordan River being the new eastern border of the State. Also, Netanyahu wants to return the rubble of Gaza to Israeli control (although, he claims, only temporarily).
As I noted in a commentary for Informed Comment on November 6,”Netanyahu [recently] referred to a biblical old testament passage that called for the killing of every Amalekite, as reported on November 3rd in Mother Jones:
- “There are more than 23,000 verses in the Old Testament. The ones Netanyahu turned to, as Israeli forces launched their ground invasion in Gaza, are among its most violent—and have a long history of being used by Jews on the far right to justify killing Palestinians.
As others quickly pointed out, God commands King Saul in the first Book of Samuel to kill every person in Amalek, a rival nation to ancient Israel. “This is what the Lord Almighty says,” the prophet Samuel tells Saul. “‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
The message was clear that he was equating all Gazans, – and likely all Palestinians – with the fate of the Amalekites. He wasn’t just targeting Hamas. It was a call to arms for his religious party supporters and a dog whistle to American Christian Zionists.
How was the promise of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords thwarted, and how did we spiral down into the current crisis?
The New York Review of Books, in a historical footnote, recalled:
- “Enough” is the word that Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel’s prime minister, stressed in his remarkable speech of September 1993 at the signing of the imperfect, but promising, Oslo Accords.
“We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough…. We are today giving peace a chance and saying to you and saying again to you: Enough…”
Yasser Arafat shook hands with Rabin and recognized the possibility of reconciliation: “The battle for peace is the most difficult battle of our lives. It deserves our utmost efforts because the land of peace… yearns for a just and comprehensive peace.”
Rabin, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1994, recognized the impossibility of security without peace: “There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications. The one radical solution is peace.”
Rabin was assassinated in 1995 after a Tel Aviv rally attended by an estimated 100,000 Israelis in which he led the crowd in advocating for a peaceful end to the intractable blood feud between Israelis and Palestinians. His killer was a right-wing Likudnik opposed to the peace process. Some Israelis thought Netanyahu inspired the assassination.
That assassination ushered in a rabid right-wing movement toward widespread expansion into the Occupied West Bank illegally according to International law, nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers on Arab land in the West Bank, and more than 200,000 Jewish settlers displacing Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
For those in doubt, consider some of just a few of the comments from Netanyahu’s political partners:
In mid-October, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.” His comments appeared to erase the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, which underpins International Humanitarian Law. Equating innocent civilians with combatants is a common move among terrorists such as members of al-Qaeda.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, for his part, said, “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.”
Minister of Agriculture Avi Dichter told an interviewer, “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba.”
Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant added more incendiary rhetoric to the attack on Gazans, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed,” Gallant said shortly after the Hamas slaughter in Israel.“We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” he added on October 9.
Israel’s Heritage Minister, Amihai Eliyahu, recently announced that dropping an atomic bomb on Gaza was an option in the current Israeli offensive. Netanyahu disavowed the possibility, but did not fire Eliyahu, just suspended him from cabinet meetings. Eliyahu’s sentiments were echoed by Likud lawmaker, Tally Gotliv wrote, “I urge you to do everything and use Doomsday weapons fearlessly against our enemies.” She added, “It’s time to kiss doomsday. Shooting powerful missiles without limit. Not flattening a neighborhood. Crushing and flattening Gaza. … without mercy! without mercy!”
According to Brett Wilkins at Common Dreams,
- “Nissim Vaturi, the far-right deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament, raised eyebrows and ire … after asserting on social media that Israel’s war on Gaza—which has killed and maimed over 40,000 people and displaced around 70% of the population—is “too humane.” “We are too humane,” he declared, “Burn Gaza now, no less!”
Likud Party stalwart Galit Distel Atbaryan, said of the energy unleashed among Israelis by the October 7 atrocities, “Invest that energy in one thing: Erasing all of Gaza from the face of the earth.”
Last week, two Israeli legislators, in the Wall Street Journal, called on Western nations to take in Palestinians from Gaza to reduce the population in Gaza who are being pummeled by the Israeli onslaught and denial of basic necessities, including food, water and functioning hospitals. In short, other nations should help expel Gazans by offering them a refuge, a “strategy” also supported by Netanyahu’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich.
But don’t just judge the Netanyahu bigots by their words, judge them by their actions. It could have taken a far different course rather than the years of unending “mowing the lawn” bloodshed.
These actions add up to steps Israel is taking to govern from the Jordan River to the sea (the west of Israel lies on the Mediterranean coast.). It is not aspirational; it is happening in plain sight.