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23 JUN 2024

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  • Brett Surbey

What does “free Palestine” mean?

Understanding the verbiage associated with the Israel-Hamas conflict

Free Palestine Protest

The Basic Facts

After the events of October 7, 2023, in Israel, and Israel’s counter-strike against Hamas, thousands of pro-Palestine supporters have emerged around the US and in other countries. One rally held on Harvard’s campus had over 1,000 participants, some of whom were chanting the phrase, “free Palestine.”

Though each rally participant may have their own unique meaning they attribute to the phrase, some had specific denotations in mind. Kojo Acheampong—one of the speakers and “free Palestine” chant leaders at the rally—voiced her group’s opinion of being, “in full support of the Palestine resistance against the settler colonial apartheid regime that is Israel.”

“Marginalized people, oppressed people, colonized people are always demanded to justify their means of liberation,” Acheampong added, “They’re not terrorists.”

Historical context for the term “free Palestine”

In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 81 or the “Partition Plan” which divided the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. In 1948 Israel was founded as a safe haven for Jews to find solace in the Middle East and claim an area to call their home. As a result of the divide and the creation of Israel, war broke out between Arabs and Israelis—with Israel the victor in 1949. The result of the war left approximately 700,000 Palestinians displaced who scattered into Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, and surrounding areas. This conflict further resulted in the creation of three distinct zones: Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Gaza Strip.

In short, Israel and Palestine have had numerous armed conflicts between their first spark in 1948 and now in 2023. Hamas, the Palestinian military group, has spearheaded a number of these events, including the taking of the Gaza Strip.

These conflicts are motivated by a number of issues, with two being the most relevant to the meaning of “free Palestine”:

  • Settlements: There are a number of areas settled by Israel that other countries deem to be illegally taken, but Israel claims are connected to them through biblical and historical ties that legitimately came back under Israeli control in 1967 as a result of the Six Day War.

An idea that has been the subject of many talks is a two-state solution, allowing Palestine control of key areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Israel — and allowing each nation to have its own state borders. However, Hamas unequivocally rejects the two-state solution and is sworn to the destruction of Israel.

This historical background illuminates what someone may mean when using the phrase “free Palestine:”: independence for Palestine. To the ears of Israelis who have suggested the co-independence of the two nations through the two-state solution, this seems a fair request. But, without caveats in place committing to a two-state solution, its usage can inspire fear—and incite hate.

“Free Palestine” and anti-Semitic undertones

Though according to recent polls, support for a two-state solution has fallen among both Palestinians and Israelis, majorities of both groups, excluding Hamas, still want peace through various means.

The Deputy Chief of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, views freedom for Palestine as the result of violence, not agreement: “We will continue to fight until we are rewarded with victory, freedom and independence,” al-Arouri told Aljazeera. In his view, Palestine has a right to have their holy sites, their freedom, and the right to fight Israel. “Free Palestine” in this context, is not merely a call to have a displaced people find national solidarity through reasonable means, but through the use of violence. For those chanting this phrase, freeing Palestine is necessarily connected to the removal of all Jews and Israel.

Others use the saying as a nod to the use of any means necessary to break Palestine from the control of a so-called “racist Israeli terror state” that has allegedly violently occupied and dispossessed Palestine and its people. This approach is not one of peaceful agreement but of complete usurpation.

The bottom line on what "Free Palestine" means

Some Palestinians and Israelis do see eye-to-eye regarding peace and inclusive national solidarity that does not hinge on the eradication of the other. But as others have noted, “free Palestine” is not a call easily associated with peace, if at all. It is a cry for eradication at its worst, especially when espoused by Hamas.



Aljazeera, Why Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel,, December 10, 2017

Aljazeera, Hamas says it has enough Israeli captives to free all Palestinian prisoners,, October 7, 2023

American Jewish Committee, “From the River to the Sea”,, n.d.

BBC, How much of a shift is the new Hamas policy document?,, May 2, 2017

Britannica, Two-state solution,, November 3, 2023

Centre for Preventative Action, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,, October 16, 2023

Council on Foreign Relations, What is Hamas?,, October 31, 2023

Fox2Detroit, Emotional, passionate pro-Palestine rally draws hundreds in Dearborn,

New York Post, ‘Free Palestine’ really means ‘Eliminate Israel,’ and Democrats can no longer ignore it,, November 5, 2023

NPR, Biden wants a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Is it still possible?,, October 27, 2023

Pew Research Centre, Israelis have grown more skeptical of a two-state solution,, September 26, 2023

Reuters, What's the Israel-Palestinian conflict about and how did it start?,, October 11, 2023

Socialist Worker, Free Palestine: Why we say by any means necessary,, October 14, 2023

The Harvard Crimson, Pro-Israel? Pro-Palestine? You Can Be Both.,, October 27, 2023

The Harvard Crimson, More Than 1,000 Rally on Harvard’s Campus to ‘Free Palestine’ Ahead of Expected Ground Invasion of Gaza,, October 15, 2023

United Nations, History of the Question of Palestine,, n.d.


Brett Surbey

Brett Surbey is a corporate paralegal and freelance writer based out of Canada. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Publishers Weekly, US News and World Report, Forbes Advisor, Industry West Magazine and various academic journals. He lives with his wife and their two children in northern Alberta.


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