Friday, December 29, 2023








The idea is to appeal to people who know nothing." – Sean Eren, national steering committee member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to a New Yorker Magazine reporter.


No slogan has been shouted more by the tens of thousands of students protesting Israel’s retaliation for the Hamas slaughter of more than 1,200 of its residents than the one that goes “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”


Most Jews believe the catchy phrase amounts to a call for genocide, reminiscent of the Nazi German demand for a Judenrein (“Jew-free”) Europe. The slogan has been a trade mark of pro-Palestinian groups for more than a decade, as they’ve plumped for a complete Palestine free of Jews.


It was the ancient Romans who tagged the land Palestine after the even more ancient Philistines while they dragged most of its inhabitants away into slavery, a conquest still depicted on the Arch of Titus in modern Rome. But a Jewish remnant stayed on for millenia; there is solid documentation of a Jewish presence on the land through the last 3,000-plus years.


        Now there is also evidence that many, if not most, of today’s loud protesters know little or nothing about the history and places they shout about.


        This was determined in a poll commissioned by UC Berkeley’s Ron Hassner, a professor of political science and the campus Israel studies chair.


        Hassner first reported the survey findings in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, writing that the pollster he hired surveyed 250 U.S. student protesters on a variety of campuses. While Hassner did not respond to a request for comment on the poll, its findings were clear.


        Fully 85 percent of demonstrators surveyed supported the slogan, but only 47 percent of those surveyed knew which river and sea it refers to. (The Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.)


        Some thought it meant the Nile or Euphrates rivers, both far from Israel. Many named the Dead Sea, Atlantic Ocean, or the Caspian and Caribbean seas. Of these, only the Dead Sea – the southern terminus of the Jordan River – borders Israel.


        The same students knew just as few other facts of the region. Not even 25 percent could identify Yasser Arafat, and 10 percent named him as the first prime minister of Israel. In fact, he was the founding leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.


        Wrote Hassner, “There is no shame in being ignorant unless one is screaming for the extermination of millions,” which many believe is the real aim of “From the river to the sea…”


        “These students had never seen a map of the Mideast and knew little about the region’s geography, history or demography,” Hassner wrote. He reported that when shown the error of their concepts, 67.8 percent said they now reject the “From the river…” slogan.


        This indicates many, if not most, demonstrators are largely living out the “people who know nothing” aim expressed by Eben to the New Yorker.


        It’s much the same whenever the history of the so-called Palestinian “Nakba,” or “catastrophe” is taught; techniques from classroom teaching to children’s books (like one now used in some Oakland schools) claim that all today’s Palestinian refugees or their forebears were forced to leave the territory of present-day Israel by “a gang of bullies called Zionists,” as the children's books puts it.


        Actual history is that Palestinians at the time of Israel’s birth via a 1948 United Nations resolution could have had their own country, had they but agreed to live with a partition quickly accepted by the region’s Jews. A two-state solution.


        Instead, as Israel declared independence in 1948, armies from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq invaded. This was how Jordan acquired the territory now known as the West Bank and part of Jerusalem, which it held until Israel won it in the 1967 Six Day War.


        Meanwhile, repeated radio messages from Amin al-Husseini, then the Muslim grand mufti of Jerusalem, urged Palestinian Arabs to leave temporarily and allow Arab armies to operate more freely. Israel at the time urged Arabs to stay on, and many did.


        Very few current protesters know this history. Which suggests students at Berkeley and elsewhere might make better use of their time by learning relevant history and geography, rather than shouting slogans.




    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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