As part of the Oversight Board’s consultation on the moderation of social media posts that include reference to the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” EFF recently submitted comments highlighting that moderation decisions must be made on an individualized basis because the phrase has a significant historical usage that is not hateful or otherwise in violation of Meta’s community standards.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a historical political phrase or slogan referring geographically to the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, an area that includes Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Today, the meaning of the slogan for many continues to be one of freedom, liberation, and solidarity against the fragmentation of Palestinians over the land which the Israeli state currently exercises its sovereignty—from Gaza, to the West Bank, and within the Israeli state.

But for others, the phrase is contentious and constitutes support for extremism and terrorism. Hamas—a group that is a designated terrorist organization by governments such as the United States and the European Union—adopted the phrase in its 2017 charter, leading to the claim that the phrase is solely a call for the extermination of Israel. And since Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel on October 7th 2023, opponents have argued that the phrase is a hateful form of expression targeted at Jews in the West.

But international courts have recognized that despite its co-optation by Hamas, the phrase continues to be used by many as a rallying call for liberation and freedom that is explicit both in its meaning on a physical and symbolic level. The censorship of such a phrase due to a perceived “hidden meaning” of inciting hatred and extremism constitutes an infringement on free speech in those situations.

Meta has a responsibility to uphold the free expression of people using the phrase in its protected sense, especially when those speakers are otherwise persecuted and marginalized. 

Read our full submission here

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