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Persecution against Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour is expanding to her defenders

In July 2014, when 16 years old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive, it was a shock for the Arab Palestinian public. People felt that the atrocity was a result of constant anti-Arab incitement by Israel’s top politicians and mainstream media. They also felt that the Israeli police and courts are not very concerned to prevent or punish violence when the perpetrators are Jew and the victims are Arab. Arabs were protesting all over the country. Hundreds of Arab activists shared a profile picture on Facebook, designed like obituary, saying “I’m the next

I am the next martyr

“I am the next martyr” – protesting the killing of the innocents

martyr”. Its meaning was clear for everybody: while children are randomly kidnapped from their streets and murdered, any of us can be the next victim.

More than a year later, in October 2015, this very same profile picture on the Facebook page of poet Dareen Tatour was wrongly interpreted by Israeli stupid “intelligence” as a declaration that she is going to make a suicide attack. Her house was surrounded at a pre-dawn raid by a big force of Israeli police and border guards and she was arrested. In the first interrogation they told her that she wrote that she wants to be a martyr (“Shahida” in Arabic). Soon they understood their mistake, but they wouldn’t apologize and let their victim go free. They started digging deeper in her Facebook page and found a poem and some posts that they also maliciously misinterpreted, this time as “incitement”. So started the saga of “The Jewish State against Poet Dareen Tatour”, which is now a world famous example of Israel’s unjust persecution of Palestinian arts and the freedom of political protest.

From protesters to victims

Just like Dareen Tatour protested the fate of other victims and became a victim herself, now the state of Israel is turning against those people that protest the persecution of the poet.

A group of Jewish and Palestinian artists plan to stage a protest event in solidarity with Tatour in the Yaffa (Jaffa) “Arab-Hebrew Theater” on August 30th, before her trial is going to resume. They prepared a rich artistic program including reading from Tatour’s poetry and original works by other poets, and staged reading from the trial’s minutes. The full text of the invitation with the program is cited below as the last section of this post.

Today, Monday, August 21, Haaretz published (in Hebrew) a long news item titled “The Ministry of Culture requested the treasury to examine whether the Jaffa Theater violated the Nakba Law”. This is the beginning of a process, directly centered against the hosting of the solidarity event on August 30th. It aims to cut the budget of the theater and might even end with the theater having to pay destructive high fine of up to 3 million shekel.

The tail wagging the dog

The whole process shows how extremist elements are now driving “mainstream” Israeli politics and government institutions are mobilized by populist-racist politicians like Miri Regev to serve their anti-democratic agenda.

It all started with one “Shai Glick”, that is sometimes mentioned as CEO of an organization called “Bezalmo – Jewish human rights organization”. This organization calls for a demonstration in front of the Yaffa event, which it describes as “calling for the release of a terrorist” (using the Hebrew degrading word “Mehabelet”). The picture that

Invitation Dareen counter demo image

Bloody Caricature inciting against the Yaffa Theater: “stop financing terror”

was selected for the event page (copied here) is an example of the worst kind of bloody propaganda. Till now the Facebook event of this counter-demonstration has 5 people signed as “attending” (and 15 “interested”), compared to 136 “going” (and 239 “interested”) for the solidarity event.

But Shai Glick is not alone. If he doesn’t have the public, he can mobilize the whole power of the state. On August 7 Israeli “mainstream” site “Maariv” reported (in Hebrew) that as a result of a complaint by Mr. Glick, a little known Knesset member from the governing Likud, Sharren Haskel, sent a concerned letter to Ms. Regev, the Culture minister, reporting the solidarity event, repeating Glick’ accusations and requesting the minister to “handle it”.

Hence comes the current initiative by minister Regev, demanding investigation by the ministry of finance which is responsible for the financing of theaters and has the authority to reduce or abolish funding or imposing fines.

The Nakba law

Everybody is somewhat perplexed by the whole process, as it is a new attempt to use new laws and procedures to squeeze freedom of expression. The common knowledge in Israel is that even as Palestinians are persecuted for anything or nothing, the freedom of expression for the Jewish population was more or less secure. Now the event in Yaffa may become a test case of the new laws and the old assumptions.

Regev and Mandelblit

Regev and Mandelblit, changing the rules of the play to shut up theaters

The Knesset seems to be always busy passing new racist and anti-democratic laws, so much so that people relate to the “status quo” and tend to ignore these new laws, hoping that they will not be implemented. Specifically, the new “Nakba law”, which is the legal base of the investigation against the Yaffa theater, was almost ignored, as it mostly speaks about the denial of government funding. People were wondering are there any government funded institutions that actually commemorate the Palestinian Nakba?

But the so-called “Nakba law” is not only about commemorating the Nakba. It counts many possible offences that deserve denial of funds, including questioning the “Jewish democratic” nature of the state – i.e. opposing Jewish supremacy. And lately, in a new twist to the plot, the government’s attorney general agreed with Ms. Regev to hold theaters responsible not only to their own plays and programs but also to the contents of any event held in their premises.

In a detailed report in Haaretz (August 16, in Hebrew) about the consultations between Regev and Mandelblit, the attorney general, about the strengthening of political supervision of theaters, she is cited as saying: “Hear me well. I’m not ready to be laughed at. I have 20 complaints about the Yaffa Theater. They say that in the Yaffa Theater there are extreme organizations that call for boycott of Israel”. So all that Mr. Glick and his likes should do is write 20 letters, and they become the Ten Commandments for the minister.

“Al-Midan”, the Arabic theater from Haifa, was persecuted for similar reasons over the last two years and as of now is still closed. Now, with the new law, the Yaffa Theater might be the next martyr.

The invitation for the August 30th solidarity event

Here is the full text of the invitation, with the detailed program, taken for the event’s Facebook page:Invitation Yaffa Dareen solidarity

A poetry and theater event for the immediate release of the poet Dareen Tatour
On the stage
Reading from the minutes of Dareen’s trial. Actors: Doron Tavori and Liora Rivlin. Director: Einat Weitzman
Music and Spoken Word: Tamer Nafar
Reading original poetry and translations of Dareen’s poems: Tal Nitzan, Rachel Peretz, Yonit Naaman, Sheikha Hlewe, Mahmoud Abu Arisha, Michal Ben Naftali and Dana Amir
Facilitator: Orly Noy
Selling books >>>> Limited edition of social and political literature:
The Independent Bookshop “Sipur Pashut”. Percentage of sales will be contributed to Dareen’s legal defense.

(This article appeared also in Mondoweiss)