Free the Palestinian Poet, Arrested for Expressing Her Opinions

The very fact that Dareen Tatour was indicted raises very tough questions about freedom of expression in Israel, and in any case, her continued detention until her case is decided in court is intolerable.

Dareen Tatour in Nazareth District Court on May 8, 2016.
Dareen Tatour in Nazareth District Court on May 8, 2016. Rami Shllush

The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court is slated to hear on Tuesday an appeal by poet Dareen Tatour, who seeks to ease the terms of her arrest. Tatour, an Israeli citizen from the Galilee village of Reineh, was arrested eight months ago for posts on her Facebook page and videos she uploaded to YouTube.

For three months after her arrest Tatour was held in two different jails. For five months she has been under full house arrest, where she was ordered to remain through the duration of the proceedings. She now lives in an apartment in Kiryat One, outside Tel Aviv, that her brother rented for her because she was ordered by the court to leave her village. She wears an ankle monitor.

Tatour was arrested in October at a predawn raid of her home by a large number of police officers, like some dangerous criminal. This week, protests against her arrest will take place throughout the country, but the fact that a poet is confined because of a poem that she published or other things that she wrote has not generated as large a public reaction in Israel as it should have. Her arrest has elicited more-widespread protests overseas.

One of the main pieces of evidence against Tatour is a poem she wrote in Arabic called “Qawem ya sha’abi, qawemhum.” In court, a police officer translated the title as “Resist, my people, resist them.” This poem became count No. 5 five on the charge sheet. Tatour was indicted for incitement to violence. A news flash she shared from the Islamic Jihad website was submitted as evidence of he support for a terrorist organization.

In an interview with Gideon Levy in Haaretz last month, Tatour said she opposes violence. “It is my right to ask why you killed those you killed,” she said. “There is no law in the world that prohibits me from stating my opinion. I am against terrorism. Certainly I am against terrorism.”

Supporters of Dareen Tatour outside the courthouse in Nazareth, May 8, 2016.
Rami Shllush

Tatour is a political prisoner in every respect, held in an Israeli jail and now in house arrest for expressing her opinions and writing poems. This is an intolerable situation in a law-abiding state that purports to be democratic. She is entitled to express her opinions and publish her poems, however extreme and unacceptable they may be. That’s standard practice in free countries. And of course, it’s reasonable to assume that had she been Jewish, the law enforcement system wouldn’t have abused her this way.

The very fact that Tatour was indicted raises very tough questions about freedom of expression in Israel, and in any case, her continued detention until her case is decided in court is intolerable. Tatour is entitled to be free as long as she hasn’t been convicted, and her banishment from her village is also unreasonable.

“I cannot live without poetry,” Tatour told Haaretz. “They want me to stop writing. For me to be a poet without a pen and without feelings.” This must not be allowed to happen.