Israel prosecutes a Palestinian poet over Youtube poem

Dareen Tatour is among dozens of Palestinians arrested by Israel for incitement allegations over social media posts.

Dareen Tatour
Dareen Tatour, who remains under house arrest, reads from one of her notebooks of poems [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]

Kiryat Ono, Israel – With a flick of her wrist, Dareen Tatour turned a page in her notebook, smoothed the paper and began reading aloud in a slow, steady cadence.

“The charges are like pieces of clothing. They brought me these clothes and forced me to wear them, from my toes to my head,” she said, before bursting into excited laughter at the novelty of her work being translated into English.

The lines are from A Poet Behind Bars, a piece that Tatour wrote in an Israeli prison in November 2015 after being charged with incitement to violence and supporting a “terrorist” organisation.

Tatour, a Palestinian poet, has since had ample time to work on new material – both during her three-month jail term and, more recently, while under house arrest in the Israeli city of Kiryat Ono, far from her hometown of Reine. “I have been writing a lot about my arrest and everything that happened to me,” Tatour told Al Jazeera.

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Tatour’s ordeal began in the early hours of October 11, when she was alerted by the frightened shouts of her parents. She did not know why at the time, but Israeli police had come to her family home to arrest her.

Fifteen days and multiple interrogations later, Tatour says she was presented with the allegations against her, some of which were related to a Facebook post.

Interpreting an artistic work as a direct call to terrorism dangerously misconstrues an act of free expression by an Arab citizen of Israel as a serious security threat punishable by preventative detention and prosecution.

by Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director at PEN America

She had posted a picture of Israa Abed – a Palestinian woman shot at a bus station in Afula while brandishing a knife – with the comment, “I am the next martyr.” Abed, who has a history of mental instability, survived the shooting and charges against her were later  dropped .

“What I meant with that post was that I, as a Palestinian, or any Palestinian, could be killed at any time,” Tatour told Al Jazeera.

On November 2, Tatour was initially charged with inciting violence and terrorism, as well as supporting a terrorist group, in relation to posts on her Facebook and Youtube pages.

Since then, the specifics of the charges against her have shifted, and now relate to a poem that was posted to her Youtube account.

The poem, whose title translates roughly as “Resist my people, resist,” is read aloud against background images of Palestinians clashing with Israeli security forces. 

Under the conditions of her house arrest, Tatour is confined to the flat for all but six hours a week, when she can leave and walk around the neighbourhood if accompanied by her brother.

The trial is currently underway – evidence hearings have begun. The next hearing sessions are expected to take place in July and September. Tatour will remain under house arrest until the trial is over. 

Tatour’s brother, who asked not to be named, left his job as a nurse to take on the task of watching his sister day and night. He rented the apartment in Kiryat Ono after the court ruled that his sister was too dangerous to be confined in her family home and must be held at least 40km away.

“We haven’t seen much of our family. Our father is not able to drive long distances, so they haven’t been able to visit much,” he said. “It’s not easy, but we adapt.”

Before her arrest, Tatour said she felt free to write and publish poetry without any fear or restrictions. “I never imagined that I could be arrested for something that I wrote,” she said. “Back in the ’60s, all the poets, like Mahmoud Darwish, were arrested – but in this century, I never expected this. I didn’t know that democracy was not for everyone in Israel.”

Tatour began writing as a child and realised that she was talented. In 2010, she published her first collection of poems entitled “The Last Invasion”. “I wrote about everything to do with Palestinian life: Politics, social life, women children and emotions – whatever a human being feels,” she said.

“I was preparing to publish a second volume,”Stories of the Canary”, when they arrested me. This collection is mostly about women in general, not just Palestinian women, but sexual harassment, rape and social issues,” Tatour said.

PEN America, a human rights group that works to defend freedom of expression around the world, released a statement on June 17 condemning Tatour’s detention and prosecution. “Interpreting an artistic work as a direct call to terrorism dangerously misconstrues an act of free expression by an Arab citizen of Israel as a serious security threat punishable by preventative detention and prosecution,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America.

“The connection between Tatour’s activities and the charges of incitement to violence and support for terrorism relies solely on suggestion in the form of a poem and video rather than actual evidence. Her detention, one in a string of recent arrests of writers and journalists, signals a worrying expansion in Israeli law enforcement policy to silence views the government deems unsavory.”

Tatour’s lawyer, Abdul-Majeed Fahoum, says Dareen could face five years in prison. 

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Tatour is among dozens of Palestinians who have arrested for incitement allegations in relation to social media posts in recent months. Anas Khateeb, 19, was charged with incitement to violence and “terrorism” relating to three Facebook posts he allegedly uploaded in October 2015. The posts garnered no more than a few dozen “likes”, said Khateeb’s lawyer, Aram Mohammed, who is with Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

“He’s a political activist. But is he a politically influential figure? No,” Mohammed said. “None of his posts received more than 70 likes, indicating that he was unlikely to foment unrest on any scientific scale.

“There are no clear legal grounds for the charge,” Mohammed added. “Incitement should be clear, specific and not subject to interpretation.”

Israeli security services have increased their surveillance and monitoring of Arab social media activity since the 2014 Gaza war. But while Palestinians such as Tatour and Khateeb have been indicted in relation to social media posts since last autumn, Jewish Israelis have not been held to an equal standard, Mohammed said.

“We do not live in a state where everyone is equal before the law,” he said. “We know that.”

Source: Al Jazeera