Speaking on Wednesday at the Knesset, Tzipi Hotoveli, Israel’s highest ranking diplomat, went on a rant against Palestinians, calling them “thieves of history”:
“You are thieves of history. Your history books are empty, and you are trying to co-opt Jewish history and Islamicize it.”
Hotoveli’s accusation was aimed at Palestinian-Israeli Members of Knesset, whom Israel doesn’t even consider Palestinian but rather ‘Israeli Arabs’. Hotoveli waved two books at them, the bible and Assaf Voll’s recent book, “History of the Palestinian People”, an empty 132-page book which was recently pulled from Amazon meant to suggest that no such history exists.
This book is empty. Do you know why it is empty? Because they have no kings, they have no heritage sites. The Palestinians are violating Jewish heritage sites. …
David, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish nation. You will not succeed in Islamicizing them, you will not succeed in eradicating the bible.
Hotoveli is Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the Foreign Ministry portfolio himself.
Her fulmination was set against the backdrop of the recent UNESCO resolution that lists Al-Khalil (Hebron) and the Al-Ibrahimi mosque (Tomb of Patriarchs) as Palestinian world heritage sites, an act which Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Immanuel Nahshon regarded as a promoting “fake history”, despite its recognition of the sites’ importance to the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was not the fact that the sites were recognized that enraged Israeli leaders, but that they were recognized as Palestinian.
When UNESCO accepted Palestine as a member in 2011 (thereby also recognizing it, as do ¾ of the UN member states), the US cut $50 million of its support as punishment.
This time, Israel cut funding to UN by another $1 million as punishment for the UNESCO resolution, adding to other cuts from the past year of $8 million (in response to UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and Human Rights Council resolutions condemning Israel). The likelihood is that Israel will only provide $2.7 million – less than one-fourth of its former fees.
Surely, Hotoveli is not the first to suggest that Palestinians don’t exist. Such claims have historically been made by Zionists from left to right. And the ‘leftists’ have been particularly good at it: From Ben-Gurion’s referring to them as “Arabs who happen to be in Palestine”, to Golda Meir’s “Palestinians? What Palestinians?” , to Moshe Dayan’s “no more Palestine – finished”. For Israel, ‘Palestine’ has been a notion that it sought to erase for all practical purposes; hence its refusal to recognize Palestine and to refer to Palestinian citizens merely as ‘Arabs’, despite over two-thirds of them identifying as Palestinians. It was only when ‘Palestine’ could be the name for “less than a state” (as Yitzhak Rabin assured Israelis, even as he signed Oslo accords), a set of Bantustans for which the disenfranchised Palestinians could be consigned under the Oslo Accords in mid-1990’s, that calling them ‘Palestinians’ could be accepted in Israeli discourse, which maintains that Palestinians are merely ‘Arabs’ if they are Israeli citizens.
Hotoveli’s empty-book act must surely be a first, wherein an Israeli lawmaker waved an empty book in support of such claims. Hotoveli’s absolutist notions about the erasure of Palestine couple with her absolutist views about Jewish rights to ‘Eretz Israel’, the historical ‘land of Israel’:
“This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that”,
Hotoveli said at her inaugural speech in 2015. She then continued in citing the medieval rabbi Rashi to bolster her claims, supposedly based upon the wish of God:
“Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of the world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us”, she said.
So there is supposedly no discussion to be had at all: God said so, according to Tzipi Hotoveli. And she projects her denial of Palestine and Palestinian history upon Palestinians. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes she said that Palestinians put “the denial of Israel as the first issue on the agenda” – despite their recognition of Israel per treaty in the Oslo Accords, a recognition which alas has not become reciprocal in any real way from Israel’s side.
So, Hotoveli keeps saying ‘Palestinians’. Now, do they exist, or do they not?
Indeed, consider the further irony here: who is Hotoveli speaking to in the Knesset? The Palestinian MK’s, those ‘Arab MK’s’, those ‘Israeli Arabs’ as Israel would have it. She addresses her anger about Palestinian recognition at them. But aren’t they supposed to be just ‘Arabs’? Aren’t they not supposed to exist as ‘Palestinians’?
Indeed, in her fundamentalist, hysterical, shameless and genocidal raving, Hotoveli actually comes to confirm the overarching Palestinian nationhood that cuts across Israel’s shallow and artificial attempts of degrading them and separating them from each other. Tzipi Hotoveli’s erasure narrative comes around 360 degrees, and confirms the existence of a one Palestinian nation. Books could be written about this, but Hotoveli’s model is an empty one.