After being convicted of incitement to terrorism, and just before she is handed her sentence, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour opens up in a personal interview about her Kafkaesque trial, the struggle of Palestinian citizens, and why she is a real poet, despite what her critics may claim.
By Oren Ziv
On Tuesday, July 31, at 11 a.m. Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour will be sentenced before a Nazareth court. For nearly three years, Tatour has been under house arrest in her family home in the village of Reineh. She is not allowed to use the internet.
Tatour was convicted of inciting terrorism and violence this past May over a poem she wrote titled “Qawem Ya Sha’abi, Qawemhum” (“Resist my people, resist them”), as well as two other posts on social media. The prosecution has asked for a sentence of between 15-26 months.
“Today I know what true freedom is,” Tatour tells me when we meet in her home. “It is true that I am imprisoned and this is very difficult, but I feel as if I have ripped off many chains in many aspects of my life,” says the woman who has become one of the symbols of Israel’s “Facebook arrests” in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and inside Israel. “I feel like I have broken through all the restrictions on me, from my society, my environment, and the occupation, even as I am in detention. In my eyes, this is the real victory.”
As we sit in her room, where she spends most of her time, Tatour tells me everything that has happened from the moment she was arrested in the early hours of October 11, 2015, when police raided her home and took her in for interrogation. “My dream came true,” she tells me. “My poems were heard across the world, and many more people now know the story of Palestinians in ’48 (Palestinian citizens of Israel – O.Z.) — how we live here inside the occupation. They say we have rights. It is true that we have IDs and citizenship, but no one knows how we suffer under this regime.”
“It is true that I pay a personal price,” she adds, “but I passed on the message to the entire world, and this is no longer my personal story. I am talking about an entire society that lives in a difficult reality.”
Is she a poet?
Before her arrest, Tatour was a mostly anonymous poet, publishing her work on social media to little fanfare. Since the beginning of her trial, however, media outlets across the world have widely reported on her story, while poets, authors, and activists have shown their solidarity. Even Culture Minister Miri Regev re-uploaded the video with Tatour’s poem to her Facebook page, boosting it by tens of thousands of views — far more than when Tatour first posted it.
Yet ever since her arrest, critics — including in Arab society — have assailed Tatour for her work, some of them going as far as to claim that she should not be considered a poet.
“I have heard this many times,” Tatour laughs. “It annoyed me because no one knows what I have gone through — why I began to write. It is okay if someone does not like my poems, but to say that I am not a poet? No one has that right.”
This criticism, which bolstered the position of the state and the prosecution, which sought to prove that Tatour’s poems did not constitute art, only caused Tatour to write more while under house arrest. Her room is full of drafts and notebooks in which she writes poems and short stories, as well as books in Arabic by Palestinian poets such as Mahmoud Darwish, Fadwa Tuqan, Ibrahim Nasser Allah, among others.
“I felt that I needed to prove to them that I am a poet. When a person suffers, he becomes stubborn. The Dareen after detention is nothing like the Dareen before detention. I am stronger. I think about things differently because I underwent the worst possible thing — being imprisoned is the hardest thing.” She talks about the 97 days she was jailed in Kishon Detention Center, Hasharon Prison, and Damon Prison, until she was transferred to house arrest. “Every time I think about something difficult, I know that it won’t be harder than what I went through.”
‘I am fighting for all women’
Tatour’s house arrest, which began in January 2016 after she was held for nearly 100 days in prison, includes many restrictions. At first she was held at her brother’s home who lives in Kiryat Ono, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Only after a legal struggle was she permitted to return to her parents’ home in Reineh, near Nazareth. Her family was forced to disconnect the internet at home, and Dareen was forbidden from using the computer. For months she was forced to walk around with an ankle monitor.
“Before my detention I sometimes found myself in despair. But today, as I enter this period, I immediately get it all out through art. I wrote more, I began to draw, and I photographed things that I never thought I could before. Never did I think I would be in detention, and even though it is bad I have to make the best of it.” In the meantime, Tatour takes care of her family’s cats, Simba and Kadi. “When I was in detention they hardly ate,” she says. Now, as she faces the possibility of prison time, Tatour is worried about who will care for them.
“I did not feel that this was a real trial, but rather a play that was written in advance and is now being performed,” Tatour tells me. “It began political and ended political — that’s the thing with apartheid.”
Her trial has stretched for over two years and 57 separate hearings, during which expert witnesses were summoned to testify about the translation of her poem. “Me, Gaby Lasky (Tatour’s attorney — O.Z.), the prosecutor, and the judge — they are all women. It is sad to see the prosecutor go against me, woman versus woman. Even until now it has been hard for me to accept,” she says. “It is clear that it is not personal, but I look at the principal of the thing. If I were in her place I wouldn’t accept this case. I am fighting for what all women are fighting for: freedom of expression and liberation for women.”
In July 2017, the court allowed three additional, non-family custodians to accompany Tatour outside her home in the day, permitting her to go on short trips while her relatives are at work. One of those custodians is Ofra Yeshua Lyth, a political activist. Every week, she drives from her home in Jaffa to the north and picks up Tatour.
Two months ago I joined the two for a trip to the village of I’bilin in the north, where Tatour interviewed an elderly Palestinian woman from the village of al-Damun, which was destroyed in the 1948 War. For three hours, Tatour interviewed the woman, who told the story of her expulsion from her village during the Nakba. Before her arrest, Tatour had worked on documenting the villages destroyed in 1948. “I began the project when a refugee from one of the Palestinian refugee camps asked me to document his village, Miksa.” Since then, she has documented dozens of other villages. “I documented 153 of the 531 villages destroyed in Israel. I thought that we Palestinians have to document our villages before they disappear entirely, to say that there was something here. To not let history be erased.”
This month I met Tatour once more during a work meeting with Israeli actor Einat Weizman in Jaffa. Last summer, Weizman directed a play that uses courtroom minutes to bring to life segments from Tatour’s trial. Now the two are working together on a new play — based on a book Tatour wrote before and during her detention about her life, which will be published in Arabic, Hebrew, and English — in which Weizman will play the Palestinian poet.
“It is very interesting for me,” Tatour says. “I never thought that my life would turn into a play, but after the detention anything seems possible.” She wrote the final chapter of the book, which is currently being edited and translated, while expecting to be sent to prison. “But I am waiting to see what happens before I finish the book,” she says without much optimism. “At this point, I just want it all to end. I want them to sentence me and know how much time I have until I can be free.”
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.