Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour is in detention for over a year now, while her trial for “incitement” is being held in the Israeli court in Nazareth. You can find here a detailed report from her trial’s hearing on September 6, 2016. It was initially published in Hebrew in “Haifa Ha-Hofshit”. It was later used by writer Kim Jensen for an article in Mondoweiss on the occasion of one year of Tatour’s detention. Here an English translation is published in full detail (and my broken English) for the first time.
Poet Dareen Tatour’s trial: the truth behind the interrogations’ protocols exposed
After almost a year in detention, poet Dareen Tatour was supposed to take the stand for the first time and give her version of the events that led to her arrest. However, her testimony was postponed after the court failed to find an adequate translator.
On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, after five months of hearings, the prosecution finished resting its case with the testimony of another policeman. The cross-examination revealed that the relationship between the protocols that were submitted to the court, which are supposed to document the police interrogations of Tatour, and the reality as seen in the video documentation, is partial and tendentious at best.
Tatour arrived in the Nazareth Magistrates’ Court ready to testify. It is hard to describe the tension ahead of this testimony, which may be the highest point in the trial. A small group of activists, including three Knesset members from “The Joint List”, Ayman Odeh, Dr. Basel Ghattas and Hanin Zo’abi, came to support her.
Dareen Tatour, 34, a Palestinian poet from Reineh near Nazareth, was arrested in a pre-dawn police raid on her home on October 11, 2015. On November 2, 2015, the prosecution filed an indictment against her on charges of incitement to violence and supporting a terrorist organization. The charges are based on the poem “Resist, My People, Resist Them” and two Facebook statuses.
After spending three months in various prisons (Jalameh, Ha-Sharon and Damoun) Tatour was transferred to house arrest away from her home in Reineh. In late July, following a long legal and public struggle, the court allowed her to continue her house arrest in her home, but she is still subject to very restrictive conditions.
Lost in Translation
Even before the prosecution finished resting its case, Judge Adi Bambiliya announced that Tatour will testify on September 6 and that after it the parties should summaries. As mentioned above, the testimony that was supposed to be the center of the hearing yesterday, didn’t take place. Tatour announced that she prefers to testify in her own language, Arabic, to be able to express her position in the clearest and most accurate way. The court summoned a translator. Translation between Arabic and Hebrew is a routine part of the court’s procedures in Nazareth. But when the translator arrived he said that due to his personal connections with the Tatour family he disqualify himself from translating in this trial. The judge looked for another translator, but to no avail.
The prosecutor objected and said that Tatour has no problem to speak Hebrew. She pointed to the fact that the protocols of Dareen’s interrogations in the police were all written in Hebrew. She tried to move the judge to compel the poet to testify – but this time her plea was rejected. The prosecutor, who never misses an opportunity to embitter the life of Tatour, noted and emphasized that the delay is “the fault of the defense” and therefore there should not be any relief in Dareen’s detention over the next months. Currently, if the state succeeds to find an appropriate translator, Tatour will take the stand on November 17. An additional hearing was set to November 24, for the testimony of defense witnesses.
At the center of the indictment stands, as mentioned, the poem “Resist”. A Hebrew version of the poem, as translated by a policeman, Warrant Officer Nissim Bishara, is listed in the indictment. Bishara, a policeman with 30 years’ experience at Nazareth police station, testified in April that his qualifications for translating the poem stem from his studies of literature in high school and his love of the Arabic language. Anyway – he is not a translator.
But will Dareen Tatour have the opportunity to challenge the police’s translation and present an alternative, perhaps more faithful to the original? A few days ago the prosecutor on behalf of the State Attorney, Attorney Alina Hardak, sent a letter to the defense lawyer Abed Fahoum, where she informs him that because he had not yet submitted an alternative translation of the poem he will not be able to do it anymore. Imagine the reaction of surprise and wrath from the prosecutor during the hearing when Fahoum announced that he intends to bring an expert translator and other expert witnesses to testify for the defense.
Finally, the prosecutor announced that she demands that the next hearing will be captured on video so that the prosecution will be able to check later the testimony of Dareen in Arabic beyond the translation and beyond what will be written in the protocol. This is just another step further in the unprecedented escalation taken by the prosecution to incriminate the poet at all costs.
A Police Film or a Western?
Do you know the story about the mice that ate a tape with a movie? Later, when asked if they liked the movie, they replied that “the book was better”… This is also the opinion of many of my friends who are used to watch films and read books. But it seems that as far as police interrogations are concerned, the contrary is correct.
At the beginning of the hearing, before Dareen was called to testify, we heard policeman Samer Khalil, the last of the prosecution’s witnesses. Khalil interrogated Tatour, her fourth interrogation out of five. His testimony was required in order to submit the interrogation’s protocol to the judge.
In cross-examination the defense attorney presented a videotape of the interrogation, known as “Inbal” in police jargon, and confronted it with the virtual reality as described in the protocol.
Although the protocol mentioned only one interrogator, the same Samer Khalil, he admitted in his testimony that there were other people in the room, but he didn’t remember who they were. Looking at the video he identified them as police officers, named Haim Sivoni and Ezri Zelinger, who were responsible for the case. True, he admitted, it is common practice to write down which police officers are present in the interrogation. Why he didn’t do it this time he doesn’t know.
Beyond the practice of omitting facts from the protocol, which was proven later as consistent pattern, omitting any mention of Sivoni and Zelinger is part of the picture that was revealed throughout the trial about the luxurious life offered to Jewish officers in the apartheid system as practiced in the Nazareth police. All the police witnesses were Arab: they sign the arrest reports, ask questions, translate, write the protocols and testify in court. Jewish officers just tell them what to do, who should they detain, what to ask and what to write. They don’t sign anything, don’t do paperwork and nobody asks them anything, nor their obedient subordinates, neither bothersome attorneys in court.
Three fat cats
The cross-examination was composed mainly of segment from the video that the defense lawyer requested the policeman to watch. After watching each segment he was requested to translate what he heard and point out to the court where it appears in the protocol.
There were sections that the officer refused to translate claiming that “there is no direct translation for it from Arabic to Hebrew” – this after he, of course, translated the whole interrogation protocol. This time the translation work was divided between the evasive cop and the defense attorney who volunteered to help him when he was struggling. And what about the connection between the video and the protocol? It turned out that all the segments which we watched didn’t appear in the protocol of the interrogation that was submitted to the court!
In most of the viewed scenes the policemen were talking with Tatour, shouting at her and trying to convince her that she was “in trouble” and she had to “confess”. The reasons given for not writing it down in the protocol were many and varied… Starting with “You can write it all” through “She did not understand the question so I explained it to her one more time” (how polite of him) to “All is in video anyway. They had to transcribe the video. I don’t know why it was not done”.
When Dareen replied with an answer that the policeman didn’t like, her reply also was not written. He explained that “she didn’t answer my question, so I didn’t write it”.
Anyone who reads the protocols submitted to the court can have the impression that questions were asked and Tatour replied whatever she wanted to reply. The general impression from what we saw in the video was more reminiscent of three fat cats abusing a bird they hunted. They are shouting at her, trying to force her to say things contrary to her will and put words in her mouth. Her faint voice sounded like an occasional squeak between their shouts.
What is written in the protocol?
If you received the impression that I was slandering the interrogators in order to undermine the credibility of the protocols because Tatour confessed during her interrogation of serious crimes – Well the opposite is true. During the five interrogations Dareen “confessed” of owning her Facebook pages and explained that the materials published there are a legitimate protest against the crimes of the occupation and settlers’ terrorism against the Palestinian population.
This is also the message she intended to convey in her delayed testimony.
The sayings attributed to Tatour in the interrogation’s protocols are full of jumbled phrases like “I wrote that it is our rights as a people to prevent us from visiting the holy places this is my intention from the publication, and it is true that I published what you suspect me of, but I had no intention to violence only to ask his right in the shape peace and we are in a democratic state and if I knew that the words that I wrote is considered as incitement I would not write…” (The Hebrew original is full of printing, grammar and syntax errors).
“Q: You are suspected of participating in conferences. Who invited you?
“A: Only twice and no more. Once in Kafr Qasim in memory of Magzara 58, and the second time in Nazareth in 2013, International Women’s Day… and there was a conference for gifted children and I read poetry”. (Majzarah – in Arabic massacre. Somehow the policemen failed or didn’t want to translate it.)
Perhaps the most “criminalizing” phrase in the interrogation is the following:
“Q: Of all your publication we see that you did and called upon people to stand up against the state of Israel and its citizens and you showed things about it?
“A: I refuse to answer this question, and according to the Israeli interrogator it is true that I published things against the State of Israel.”
But immediately below:
“Q: According to what law are you going?
“A: Sure according to the Israeli interrogator.
“Q: Do you feel you’ve violated the Israeli law and he incited people to violence against the state and the citizens?
First some linguistic hints to the maze. In Hebrew “law” is spelled “hok” and interrogator is spelled “hoker”, and the difference is just one letter. Apparently the “hoker” wanted to write “hok” but spelled it wrongly twice.
Well, if so far the typing mistakes and jumbled phrases were mostly a comic relief, here what appears to be printing errors summaries the whole interrogation: Tatour is not a criminal under the law but according to the “Israeli interrogator “.
At the end of the interrogation the protocol reads: “This announcement was read to me and approved with my signature”. Indeed, Dareen’s signature appears at the bottom of the interrogation protocol that was submitted to the court.
When asked whether Dareen read the protocol before she signed it the policeman said that no, there was no need for it. Did she request to read it? The witness did not remember. So he was allowed to watch the “signing ceremony” in the video.
He explained that Tatour really requested to read the protocol before signing it. But he told her that there is no need for her to read it because everything is recorded on video and she will be able to complain later if something is not accurate.
He also said that he allowed Tatour to read the protocol after signing it. To the question “how?” he explained that he gave a copy of the signed protocol to the policeman that took Dareen to the court. Did the escort officer indeed give Dareen the protocol? He doesn’t know…
Meanwhile poet Dareen Tatour is detained for nearly a year on the basis of cooked protocols and distorted translations. Indeed, she would be able to complain about that later!