On Tuesday 15 August, a Dutch court confirmed that the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” falls under freedom of expression and is not punishable by law. The court’s verdict represents a victory for the Palestinian movement in general, and in the Netherlands specifically. Expressions for Palestinian liberation cannot simply be labeled as anti-Semitism and thereby criminalized or subjected to persecution.
The charge was filed in June 2021 by a Zionist activist against Samidoun Netherlands member Thomas Hofland. The Zionist claimed that Thomas’ statement — “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” — during a speech he gave at the annual Nakba rally one month earlier, was allegedly anti-Semitic. This false accusation is regularly used by Zionist organizations, media and politicians against Palestine activists internationally, in order to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and silence discussion and advocacy for the Palestinian cause.
Both the prosecutor and the attorney general had declared the charges unfounded within a year and declined to prosecute Hofland. “Fact not punishable,” they concluded. However, the case did not end with this denial – instead, it was dragged out two and a half years, because the complainant appealed every time. This latest court ruling, putting an end to the ongoing series of unfounded complaints and appeals, confirms that it is just and legal to call for the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.
Watch the full speech of 22 May 2021
Willem Jebbink, Hofland’s lawyer, said the following about the ruling:
“The court has been very brief. But the statement is crystal clear: the phrase ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free’ is not anti-Semitic. Also not hateful, inciting or threatening. In doing so, the court recognized freedom of expression. That is precisely what is important in the Palestine-Israel debate. Perhaps more than ever. People who speak out against Israel’s continued human rights violations are often labeled anti-Semitic on frivolous grounds. A transparent trick of reasoning that only serves to divert attention from the content of the debate, from what is happening in the occupied territories.
It is elementary that we in our society can sharply criticize Israel’s policies without the risk of criminalization. That the Palestinians should be able to live in their homeland as free and equal citizens. In the geographic and historical unity between – indeed – the sea and the Jordan River, free from oppression by Israel or any Arab regime or whoever.”
As Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, we are pleased that the charges against our member have been declared unfounded. It is a victory for all Palestinians and Palestine activists, especially those who are struggling in the Netherlands. And it is the result of decades of campaigning for and normalizing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, to liberate their homeland and return to Palestine.
At the same time, we must continue to defend activists for Palestine internationally. Palestine Action activists are imprisoned in the United Kingdom. A case is still pending in France to ban Collectif Palestine Vaincra, a member organization of Samidoun. In Germany, Zionist politicians and media are calling for a ban on Samidoun, and Palestinian activists are facing persecution in workplaces, immigration courts and communities. In Spain, activists are being prosecuted for protesting the Israeli ambassador, even after they were the ones threatened with a gun by an Israeli security agent. And even in the Netherlands, two activists have been arrested for their financial support to Palestinians in refugee camps. The battle against repression is a battle against the Zionist movement and the alliance between Zionism and imperialism, on the same continuum of struggle with the fight to free Palestinian political prisoners. By standing unified to confront repression, it is still possible to defend our rights while advancing the movement for Palestinian liberation.
Freedom for all Palestinian prisoners!
From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!