Poetic injustice: Palestinian poet arrested over Facebook post

Poet and activist Dareen Tatour has been charged with incitement to violence based on a poem she posted on Facebook. Its translation by a policeman whose sole competence as a translator is his ‘love for the Arabic language,’ was enough to convince the court to extend her remand and keep her under house arrest.

By Yoav Haifawi

Poet and activist Dareen Tatour spent six months under arrest for incitement. The main piece of evidence against her was a poem she published on Facebook.
Poet and activist Dareen Tatour spent six months under arrest for incitement. The main piece of evidence against her was a poem she published on Facebook.

At 3 a.m., just before dawn on October 10, 2015, patrol cars from the Nazareth Police, escorted by a unit of Israel’s Border Police, surrounded a quiet house in the nearby village of Al-Reineh. They broke in and woke up the terrified inhabitants, searching for Dareen Tatour, 33, a Palestinian poet, photographer and activist. They didn’t have a search or an arrest warrant, but the dumbfounded Tatour was detained and forcibly removed anyway.

October 2015 ushered a wave of popular struggle among the Palestinians. It was centered in Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as a response to provocations at Al-Aqsa, and later spread throughout Gaza, the West Bank and within the Green Line. Clashes between demonstrators and Israeli troops were a daily occurrence.

But Tatour didn’t expect to be arrested. This time, she didn’t take part in the demonstrations, although in the past, being a photographer, she was often targeted by police. In 2008, she was wounded when police and others attacked the March of Return in Saffuriya, in the north of Israel. But all that was ancient history. What happened now?

Apparently the immediate reason for Tatour’s detention was a status that she published on Facebook. On October 9, a Palestinian woman from Nazareth, Israa Abed, a mother of three and a post-graduate genetic engineering student, was shot by Israel soldiers in Afula’s central bus station on her way home from university. The footage of her cold-blooded shooting by several Israeli soldiers went viral, and the Arab community responded with shock. Tatour, according to the Israeli police, posted Abed’s picture and wrote: “I will be the next martyr.”

For the Israeli regime, media and public every Palestinian shot by the security forces is immediately defined as “Mekhabel” (literally translated as saboteur) – a special term invented in Hebrew to de-humanize Arab resistance fighters, meaning that they’re not even regular “terrorists”. While every single Arab that looked at the film saw clearly that Abed wasn’t attacking anyone, and concluded that any Arab now can be shot at random, the Israeli media hysterically interpreted the same incident as a proof that any Arab can be a “mekhabel”. (Fortunately, Abed’s wounds weren’t fatal and Israel later dropped any “security” charges against her.)

For the Israelis, any Palestinian “martyr” (shahid) is a suicide bomber. For the Palestinians, not only freedom fighters but every innocent victim of the occupation are shahids. During this tense period, Tatour was marked as an enemy. She can actually consider herself lucky to be only arrested and not shot at and become an actual shahida, like so many others.

The case against Tatour

Having Tatour in custody, with her computer and smartphone confiscated, the best and brightest of the Nazareth Police worked hard to prove that she is a real security threat and concoct a charge against her. On Monday, November 2, she was indicted for incitement to violence and supporting a terrorist organization. (I didn’t see the official indictment, but here are media reports about it in Arabic and Hebrew.)

The main clause of the indictment was based on a poem that she (or somebody else using her name – the case is still under review) posted on Youtube under the title: “Qawem ya sha’abi, qawemhum” (Resist my people, resist them). There is nothing illegal in this poem, not even according to Israel’s laws. But the context matters too, and the poem came out against a backdrop of Palestinian youths clashing with the occupation forces. And the images of these, according to the Israeli prosecution and media, are of “Palestinians engaged in terrorist activity”!

Another main clause in the indictment relates to a news item, cited in a post on Tatour’s Facebook page, according to which “The Islamic Jihad movement calls for continuing the Intifada all over the [West] Bank…” The same post calls for a “comprehensive intifada.” You can debate what this call for intifada actually means, but the post contains no overt support for Islamic Jihad. The same report could appear, using exactly the same language, in an Israeli media outlet. But in Israel, Palestinians are found guilty of not loving their oppressors.

Endless, tireless persecution

However, the most exacting part of Tatour’s saga started after she was indicted. In similar cases that involved mild posts on Facebook, the defendants were put under house arrest as the trial went on.

In Tatour’s case, the prosecution fought a war of attrition to extend her remand as much as possible. They ruled out sending her to house arrest at her parents’ home and demanded that she be sent to a different part of the country.

This doesn’t make any sense, as all the charges against Tatour related only to online statements, where geography doesn’t play a role. But at this stage they had already inflated the case against her, making it the flagship of their crusade to guard “the security of the region.” And in Israeli courts, the mere uttering of the word “security” would transform almost any judge from a patron of justice to an obedient rubber stamp.

The prosecution went on to demand that Tatour be held in a house that has no connection to the internet and under nonstop supervision of volunteer guards, and that she be subjected to high penalties in case of any infringement.

They objected to any specific proposal that tried to meet these harsh conditions and appealed to the District Court over what they saw as the Magistrates’ Court’s lenient decisions in her case.

As a result, Tatour spent more than three months in different prisons, in harsh conditions, and taken from one endless court hearing to another. Finally, on January 14, she was put under house arrest in a house that her brother rented especially in a Tel Aviv suburb. She was to remain indoors at all times. An electronic device attached to her ankle was supervising her movements, in addition to the hapless “guards.”

The first hearing of the trial

On Wednesday, April 13, I went to Nazareth to attend the first hearing of Dareen’s trial. The small supporting crowd included some of her relatives as well as Muhammad Barakeh, the head of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee (the official representative body of the Palestinian citizens in Israel), and Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi.

The prosecution started its plea by calling the policeman who translated the “Qawem” poem to Hebrew to the stand. The scene was completely surreal. Poems, by their very nature, are incommensurate with the concept of “proven beyond reasonable doubt” that stands at the heart of criminal law. The witness, a policeman, was struggling with the ambiguities of the poem’s content, supplying his intuitive interpretation to the phrases. We were torn between the urge to laugh out loud and the bewilderment that gripped us, bearing in mind that the freedom of our dear Dareen depends on this nonsense.

The fact that the prosecution and the judge continued to discuss in earnest the supposed incitement that figures in the poem is yet another demonstration of the way the Israeli oppressive apparatus is blinded by its own hatred and lies. But the lack of any semblance of justice and their complete disregard for the Palestinians’ basic Human Rights is even more flagrantly shown in their careless decision to rely on a policeman, with no special linguistic competence, as a translator. He testified breezily that the fact that he studied literature in high school and espouses love for the Arab language made him up for the job.

They were confident that they could rob Dareen of her freedom, based on an interpretation of her poem that wasn’t even translated properly!

(If you read Hebrew you can read a detailed report of this amazing literary experience.)

Solidarity required

The case of Dareen Tatour is just another small example of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Until now I don’t know of any specific acts of solidarity with her, neither inside Palestine nor abroad. This is understandable, taking into account that Palestinians of all ages are shot and killed every day on average, and that there are thousands of Palestinian prisoners (many of them children) and many hundreds are detained for years without any trial.

Yet I think that the case of Dareen Tatour deserves special attention.

She is a woman and a poet. The main charge against her is based on her poem. This is a good opportunity for poets and writers to take a stand against the occupation and its practice of criminalizing any Palestinian expression of the desire for freedom and dignity.

Also, during the hearing, Tatour’s lawyer, Abed Fahoum, raised the issue of discriminatory enforcement of the law against incitement. Israeli social and mainstream media is teeming with calls to kill Arabs, some made by prominent politicians and rabbis. The racist attitude of the prosecution, going exclusively against the freedom of expression of the Arab population while turning a blind eye to Zionist incitement, should be addressed.

Pursuing this line of defense is of major interest for the Palestinian Arab public in general. Tatour and her lawyer will need all the help they can get during the next few weeks, inside and outside the courtroom, to make this point heard.

Yoav Haifawi is the pen name of a Haifa-based activist. He maintains the Free Haifa blogs in English, Arabic and Hebrew). A version of this article first appeared on Free Haifa English