Is Israel forbidding a poet from receiving family visits in prison?

Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour is being imprisoned in an all-women security ward in northern Israel.

By Yoav Haifawi

Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour (right) seen with MK Haneen Zoabi in Nazareth Magistrate’s Court after the former is sentenced to five months, including time served, for a poem she wrote on Facebook. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour (right) seen with MK Haneen Zoabi in Nazareth Magistrate’s Court after the former is sentenced to five months, including time served, for a poem she wrote on Facebook. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Israel Prison Services (IPS) are preventing Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who was sentenced last month to five months imprisonment for incitement to violence, from receiving family visits, say her family members.

Tatour, who was convicted over poems and statuses she published on her personal Facebook page, was sent to a special ward for Palestinian women security prisoners in Damoun Prison on August 8th. Female security prisoners — as all Palestinian security prisoners — have no right to a telephone, no access to social workers that may help to handle sensitive personal problems, and do not undergo a rehabilitation process to prepare them for life after prison. Even meetings with attorneys must be held through a glass partition.

Tatour, 36, hails from the village of Reineh near Nazareth. She was arrested on October 15, 2015 after publishing a number of poems on her Facebook page, including “Qawem Ya Sha’abi, Qawemhum” (“Resist my people, resist them”).

That poem was published in 2015 (read an English translation here) at the height of Palestinian protests across Israel and the West Bank and during a wave of so-called lone-wolf stabbing and vehicular attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians, largely in Jerusalem and Hebron.

She spent three months in jail before being placed under house arrest. Tatour’s house arrest, which began in January 2016, included various 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.

Her case drew international attention, including a global campaign for her release. In July 2016, over 150 literary icons, including Alice Walker and Dave Eggers, signed a letter in solidarity with Tatour, calling Tatour’s imprisonment “part of a larger pattern of Israeli repression against all Palestinians.” Over 1,000 Israelis signed a petition in August 2017 demanding she be freed.

Damoun Prison is located on Mount Carmel, in a place that served before 1948 as a tobacco warehouse for the Palestinian Karaman family. In 2000 the Israel Prisons Authority admitted that Damoun was not suitable for human habitation and shut it down. However, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Intifada that same year, Damoun was reopened as a prison for incarcerating “illegal aliens” — Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who cross the separation wall without a permit in search of work. Later on, more Palestinian prisoners were brought to Damoun, including a new special section for female prisoners.

Tawfiq Tatour, father of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who was arrested and put under house arrest, demonstrates for her release at Jaffa’s Clock Tower Square, June 26, 2016. (photo: Haim Schwarczenberg)
Tawfiq Tatour, father of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who was arrested and put under house arrest, demonstrates for her release at Jaffa’s Clock Tower Square, June 26, 2016. (photo: Haim Schwarczenberg)

Tawfiq Tatour, Dareen’s father, says that when Dareen entered the detention center, he entered with her, bringing along a bag of clothes that she had prepared in advance. After Dareen was taken away, the guards told him to wait until they checked the bag. After a long wait, they returned the bag full and swollen. He does not know which contents, if at all, were allowed in.

Tawfiq recounted how after Dareen’s initial arrest in October 2015, when she was taken from her home in the middle of the night without any extra clothes, she spent many days under interrogation before the family was allowed to bring in clothes. But now, as she entered prison after being sentenced, they did not expect that such a basic issue like having proper clothes would be a problem.

Visits to security prisoners, the family was informed, can only be arranged by fax. They should submit the visitors’ names and wait for approval. For “security” prisoners only first-degree relatives are allowed to apply for permission to visit. Dareen’s father told me how he sent a request for a visit and received a negative answer: “She does not deserve a visit.” Again, no explanation was given. Several additional requests were not answered at all.

On August 22, Tawfiq drove to Damoun, despite knowing he could not visit Dareen, hoping, at least, to be allowed to deliver some clothes. The guard at the gate refused his request, as well as his request to speak to the officer in charge.

Prior to the publication of this article, we sent several queries to the IPS. They stated that “according to the Prisons Service Ordinance, it is permitted to authorize visits to convicted prisoners at the end of three months from the day they enter the prison.” Lawyers who are familiar with the issue from their routine work say that this is not the usual practice and that visits usually start around two weeks after the prisoner begins serving of the sentence.

Yoav Haifawi covered the Dareen Tatour trial and more on his blog, Free Haifa.