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Israel-Palestine war: 'From the river, to the sea' chant not arrestable offence, say UK police

Pro-Israel groups claim the slogan popular among Palestinian activists calls for the destruction of Israel
A protester holds a banner during a vigil in support of Palestinians in Gaza outside Downing Street on 18 October (Justin Tallis/AFP)
A protester holds a banner during a vigil in support of Palestinians in Gaza outside Downing Street on 18 October (Justin Tallis/AFP)

London's Metropolitan Police on Friday said they will not be arresting anyone chanting a popular slogan used by Palestinian activists during demonstrations.

The slogan in question, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free", is commonly heard at solidarity marches and refers to the area of historic Palestine between the River Tiberias and the Mediterranean Sea.

Pro-Israel groups claim it is antisemitic because it is an implicit call for the destruction of Israel, a charge rejected by Palestinian activists.

The police force's guidance comes ahead of what are expected to be large demonstrations in support of Palestinians on Saturday.

Separate marches are being organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and by the Muslim political movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, with the latter expected to be much smaller.

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A police statement read: "One particular chant that has been the subject of extensive discussion is ‘Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea’.

"This is a chant that has been frequently heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations for many years. We are well aware of the strength of feeling in relation to it."

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The statement added that while the use of the chant in order to intimidate or harass Jewish people would be an offence, "it is likely that its use in a wider protest setting, such as we anticipate this weekend, would not be an offence and would not result in arrests".

Passions have been running high in the UK as the conflict in Gaza rages on. Israeli air strikes have killed thousands of civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters launched an attack on 7 October in southern Israel, which left more than 1,400 Israelis dead.

Free speech concerns

Palestinian activists have previously expressed concerns about the criminalisation of political expression and free speech when it comes to criticising Israel.

Earlier in October, British Home Secretary Suella Braverman advised police forces across the country to look into the possibility of whether the waving of Palestinian flags amounted to a criminal offence.

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"Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example, the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism," she wrote in a letter to police chiefs.

As things stand, under British law, expressions of support for proscribed groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, can lead to arrest with the possibility of fines and prison sentences for those convicted of an offence.

The civil rights group Liberty has condemned what it calls the government's attack on "the ability to stand up for what we believe in is our fundamental right".

"Recent government responses to protests relating to Israel and Palestine are an attack on that right, and an attempt to erode the way we can make our voices heard," the group said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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