Interview by Jessica Rohan
Editor’s note: Dareen Tatour’s trial scheduled for September 6th could not proceed due to the lack of an Arabic translator for Dareen’s testimony. Her trial resumes in November.
Jessica Rohan: Others accused in minor incidents of incitement via Facebook were allowed to remain under house arrest during trial, yet you were jailed for three months while the prosecution appeared to be appealing for a harsher ruling from the District Court. Why do you think your case was handled in this exceptional manner? Why do you think you were forced to serve your house arrest in another location?
Dareen Tatour: I’m still trying to understand why they’re acting so aggressively in my case, unlike others facing charges similar to mine. The public prosecutor claims that I pose a danger and that having me under house arrest is dangerous. But what is this danger and against whom? I still don’t know until today and after all this time. They have detained me for three months and refused to let me go home to my family. They detained me away from my hometown and my environment. I still have no answer to your question, because their behavior is illogical. In fact, it’s self-contradictory. For one thing, they claim that I pose a danger to jews but then they sent me to a Jewish area. Then, they claimed that I pose a danger to my own family and community. How is it that I’m charged with inciting against the state and at the same time pose a threat to my own people? I ask these questions and can’t find any answers
JR: Your charges did not include a violent crime, yet you were arrested in a police raid on your home at 3am. Why do you think that law enforcement chose to arrest you in that manner?
DT: I don’t know what caused them to raid my house so violently. It surprised me when i was detained. They didn’t even have an arrest warrant. I think what happened is part of a systematic policy against Palestinians in general and against the Arab minority in Israel in particular. What happened with me is part of the occupation under which we Palestinians live, and part of the discrimination we face from all parties and political institutions of the state.
JR: You’ve stated that you feel unfairly targeted as a poet. Why do you think the Israeli state chose to act in the manner that they did?
DT: The fact that the poem was listed in the charge against me explains the crisis that Israel’s democracy is going through. The reality I’ve lived confirms that. In my opinion, the only explanation for detaining me as a poet is that democracy in this state applies only for a specific group, and is not a democracy for all. This is part of the discrimination against Arabs I spoke of earlier.
JR: Who were the volunteer guards who monitored you in Tel Aviv? How were they chosen?
DT: It is very saddening that my brother and his fiancé became my guards while I was under house arrest in Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv, away from home. The conditions were so harsh and restrictive that they were virtually detained with me.
JR: +972 reported that you requested to be returned to jail rather than remain in Kiryat Ono to await approval to continue house arrest in your family home. Why is that?
DT: I suffered greatly being under house arrest away from home. That’s what made me decide to go back to prison instead of going back to house arrest in Kiryat Ono even for one day. Under house arrest away from home, I was in solitary confinement for six months, which was beyond human tolerance. I had no way to get out of that but to go back to prison.
JR: The stated qualifications of the policeman who translated your poem into Hebrew was his study of literature in high school and a love for the Arabic language. He testified at the trial, where the prosecution and the judge essentially analyzed your poem to determine whether it constituted incitement. Why do you think that a more qualified translator was not used in court?
DT: Because this police officer serves and supports the position of the prosecutor’s office. To bring a real translator means proving my innocence of the charge of incitement in the poem. Of course this is not what the prosecutor wants.
JR: The solidarity campaign on your behalf included a letter signed by hundreds of fellow writers and artists. Do you think that your status as a poet helped to generate the international backlash against the Israeli government in your case?
DT: Of course. Being a poet helped publicize my case internationally and led to expressions of solidarity by hundreds of poets and writers. There are more than 400 Palestinian detainees held for charges related to freedom of expression. They have not found anyone to speak for them. I wish that each Palestinian detainee facing such charges would become an international cause. This is a humanitarian cause before it is a personal one for a poet like me.
JR: Do you think that the solidarity campaign could continue to influence the outcome of your case when the trial resumes on September 6th?
DT: Since my case has become internationally known and a case of public opinion on the freedom of expression, I learned from my lawyer that the prosecutor became very concerned about the wide-spread attention. I can say, and even confirm, that the solidarity campaign could affect the course of the upcoming trial, just like it did in the decision to place me under house arrest in my house in Reineh.
I could also say that my cause has become the cause of every Palestinian, which is protecting rights or an attempt to restore the rights of Palestinians violated by Israel, first of which is freedom of expression.
JR: Do you have a particular vision about what you hope to write or achieve as a poet in the future?
DT: The definite answer for me is that I will continue my work as an artist, writing poetry and doing photography, just as I did before detention. And I will never give up. Poetry is my whole life. Poetry is simply Dareen, and Dareen is poetry.
This translation of this interview from Arabic to English was facilitated by Lubna Hammad of Adalah-NY and Yoav Haifawi.