The claim that “the Arabs want to push the Jews into the sea” has been a powerful Zionist slogan, repeated ad nauseam in Israel and the West to equate all Jews with Zionists and portray Zionists as a vulnerable, European collective threatened by the indigenous populations of the dangerous Orient.
These claims were part of the racist reaction to Professor Marc Lamont Hill’s demand that Palestinians be free from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Some of Israel’s supporters portrayed Hill as a genocidal anti-Semite, who was encouraging the expulsion of the Jews into the sea. Zionist reactions were dramatic and hysterical, accusing Hill of calling for violent overthrow of the Zionist state and murder of Israelis.
But like much of Israeli propaganda, the claim that Palestinian liberation equates to a drowning of Jews in the sea is just another Orientalist myth. According to this dominant myth, the “birth of the Jewish state” in May 1948 was met with invasion by several Arab armies; the Zionist fight was one of self-defense and for survival; and the Palestinians fled as a result of war.
The exodus of Palestinians from Palestine was not, however, a result of war. Rather, it was a meticulously planned ethnic cleansing campaign. Following long planning, Plan Dalet, the blueprint for the military offensive that would expel Palestinians from Palestine, was launched in April 1948 – six decades after Zionists had set upon Palestine as ground-zero for their colonization project. Zionist militias and terror gangs terrorized Palestinians, as well as anti-Zionist Jews. The vast majority of Palestinians were forced to flee to neighboring countries. While fleeing, many experienced severe heat and lack of food and water. Many refugees, especially children, died of thirst.
As some Palestinians had nowhere to go, they were forced into the sea, “with children and older people being trampled to death and drowning in overloaded boats […] accompanied by clearly directed Zionist firing on them.” This occurred, for example, in Jaffa, where many Palestinians had nowhere to escape to except for the Mediterranean. Many drowned, though some managed to get north to the Lebanese coast.
Since Palestinian narratives remain within subaltern spaces, stories about the Nakba remain largely absent from Western historiography. The literal pushing of Palestinians into the Mediterranean Sea by Zionist forces is, therefore, ignored. Zionist reactions to Hill’s evocation of Palestinian freedom “from the river to the sea” are yet another instance of this Nakba denial, in which historical events – and Palestinian suffering in particular – are rhetorically overshadowed by Zionist myths.