'Sad Day for Democracy': Israeli Writers Outraged at Conviction of Palestinian Poet Dareen Tatour

'What’s more surprising is that there are still people in Israel who expect a fair trial for Palestinians ... as if Israel were still a democracy'

Poet Dareen Tatour at the Nazareth Magistrate's Court on May 3, 2018.
Gil Eliahu

Israeli literary figures lambasted Thursday’s conviction of Arab poet Dareen Tatour on charges of incitement to violence and support for a terrorist organization.

The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court convicted Tatour, 36, on account of three posts published on social media, including a poem titled, “Resist, my people, resist them.” According to a translation of the Arabic-language poem that appeared in the indictment, it included the lines, “I won’t agree to a peaceful solution / I’ll never lower my flag / until I remove them from my homeland.”

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Tatour, an Israeli Arab who lives in Reineh, near Nazareth in the country’s north, said after the verdict that she didn’t regret anything and planned to appeal the ruling.

“I wasn’t surprised by the verdict, given everything that’s been happening here,” said Ilana Hammerman, an editor, translator and writer. “The Israeli justice system has been taking this attitude for many years already. What’s more surprising is that there are still people in Israel who expect a fair trial for Palestinians and opponents of Israeli policy ... as if Israel were still a democracy. Anyone who’s surprised is someone who’s sitting with his eyes closed. This is the general direction in which Israel is heading.”

“It’s impossible to know whether this government attributes such importance to poetic imagery that it pounces like this on a Palestinian poet, or whether its compete lack of understanding of poetry causes it to treat every word like a drawn knife,” said author A.B. Yehoshua, an Israel Prize laureate. “The time has come for judges to read more Hebrew poetry throughout the generations and see the imagery and language it contains.”

Nissim Calderon, a Hebrew literature professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who served as a witness in the trial, said, “The verdict is a blow to one of the deepest traditions of Hebrew poetry – the poet’s freedom from being put on trial over his words. This was upheld under British rule toward Hebrew poets who called for the use of violence, and it’s of value to Israelis themselves even before being an obligation toward the occupied Palestinians. What begins by undermining the freedom of a Palestinian poet will surely continue by undermining the freedom of Israeli poets.”

Navit Barel, a poet and editor, said, “This isn’t an issue related to literary taste or editorial choice. It’s an issue of freedom and justice. This is a sad and frightening day for Israeli democracy. The court was asked to rule on the interpretation of a poem in a language the judge doesn’t read, and it decided this poem was dangerous.”

Barel noted that she has heard demonstrators at a protest shouting, “Rabin is looking for a friend” – a reference to assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – at the army’s chief of staff. “Which of them was sentenced as an inciter?” she asked, adding, “I’ve heard a Hebrew refrain on the radio in which a singer sang that leftists are killing their brothers, handing them over to foreigners. The law clearly laid down rules on the question of what constitutes incitement. Would an Israeli Jew who said or wrote much worse things than the poem in question be brought to trial?”

Tatour was arrested in October 2015, when Palestinians were carrying out stabbing attacks against Jews almost daily. The indictment accused her of publishing posts on Facebook and YouTube “which contained calls to commit acts of violence or terror and for praising and identifying with acts of violence or terrorism.”

One video clip she posted showed masked men throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli security forces with a voiceover of her reading her poem. By the time the indictment was filed, the prosecution said, the clip had been watched more than 200 times and received several favorable responses.

“The content, its exposure and the circumstances of its publication created a real possibility that acts of violence or terrorism will be committed,” the indictment said.

Aside from the “Resist” poem, Tatour was charged over two other posts. In one, she wrote, “Allah Akbar and praise God, Islamic Jihad has decreed a continuation of the intifada throughout the West Bank and its expansion to all of Palestine. We must begin within the Green Line,” meaning inside Israel. That post received 35 likes.

The second post contained a picture of Asra’a Abed, a Nazareth resident who was shot and wounded after pulling out a knife in Afula’s central bus station, along with the caption “I’m the next martyr.”