Detailed analysis of the verdict exposes the ingrained racism of Israel’s injustice system
(The following article appeared initially in Mondoweiss. It is also available in Hebrew)
On May 3, 2018, exactly two and a half years after the indictment was filed against her, Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet from Reineh in the Galilee, was convicted of three counts of “incitement to violence”. For one of the three publications she was also convicted of “supporting a terrorist organization”.
Judge Adi Bambiliya-Einstein’s hall at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court was full of supporters of Tatour and representatives of the Arab and Hebrew media. The judge usually sternly and resolutely conducts the hearings. In the past she even addressed the audience directly to explain how the tiresome and lengthy procedure she is conducting is entirely intended to bring out truth and justice. But this time, just when justice was supposed to come out, she announced in advance that the verdict was long and therefore she would read only a small part of it, and that little she murmured in a low voice barely audible in the hall. Only once did she raise her voice, when she quoted a precedent-setting ruling praising the importance of free speech. Finally, when she reached her conclusions, she mentioned only the section numbers in which she convicted the defendant and hurried out of the courtroom. We had to wait for the written version of the verdict to be handed over to Attorney Gaby Lasky who explained to us the meaning of the verdict: conviction on all charges.
The plea for punishment was heard on May 31. The prosecutor sought to impose on Tatour a prison term of between 15 and 26 months, more than any other defendant who was tried for similar offenses. The sentencing is expected to be issued on July 31. In the meantime, I went back to reading the verdict in order to try to understand on what grounds Tatour was convicted, even though in all the publications of which she was accused there was neither any call for violence nor support for any organization waging armed struggle against Israel.
There is no innocent Arab
The affair of the poet Dareen Tatour began with a series of mistakes.
On October 9, 2015, at a central bus station in Afula, a woman named Israa Abed, who was holding a knife, was mistakenly suspected of intending to carry out an attack. She was shot by soldiers and security personnel. The picture of the wounded Israa lying on the floor of the station was published by Dareen Tatour as the background picture for her Facebook page. Next to her was a profile picture with the inscription “I am the next martyr” – a picture used by many activists to protest the ease with which innocent Palestinian civilians are repeatedly killed by settlers, the occupation army and the Israel Police.
Dareen’s profile picture: I’m the next martyr. First published in July 2014 in protest of the burning alive of martyr Muhammad Abu Khdeir
A screenshot of the Facebook page with a picture of Israa Abed and the inscription “I am the next martyr” was transmitted by an anonymous source to the Nazareth police, who interpreted it as if Tatour intended to carry out an attack. In a pre-dawn semi-military operation, the police, accompanied by a Border Police force, raided Tatour’s house and arrested her without a search order or detention warrant. She was held for hours in a police car in the yard of the police station in Nazareth, while the policemen were insulting her and bragging of having caught “a terrorist”. In the first interrogation, that same morning, she was accused of “threatening to harm others and threatening the security of the state”.
The interrogators quickly understood that Tatour was not planning to carry out any attack. But, instead of releasing her and sending her home, they began a strenuous investigation of her two Facebook pages, her YouTube channel, her blog and all the material on her computer and on her phone. Given that Tatour is a poet, photographer and tireless writer, who responded in real time to many events, the fact that they did not find any statement beyond the norm is noteworthy. But what did not appear in the texts themselves was added by the interrogators with their interpretation. Finally they chose one poem and two Facebook statuses and, on November 2, 2015, filed an indictment.
An important part of the indictment and the court hearings relates to the period in which the publications appeared – early October 2015. In the indictment, the prosecution stresses that during that period “many attacks were carried out against Israeli Jewish citizens”. They claimed that Tatour’s publications should be interpreted, against this background, as a dangerous call to carry out attacks. Tatour, in her police interrogations and her testimony in the court, mentioned that at the same time many other things also happened: innocent Arab citizens were targeted; there were many restrictions preventing Muslims from praying at the Al-Aqsa mosque; there was a surge in popular Palestinian struggle. She showed in detail how her publications explicitly relate to these events and constitute a legitimate protest.
Israa Abed just before she was shot by Israeli soldiers in the Afula central bus station. Dareen said she watched the video and was sure that Israa didn’t attack or threaten anybody.
In summing up the defense case, showing that the harm to innocent people was a tangible danger that characterized the period and justified Tatour’s warning/protest, Lasky noted that at that time many prominent Israeli officers, ministers and politicians publicly called to shoot to kill both suspects and terrorists. She continued to list two cases: the lynching of an Ethiopian citizen named Haftom Zarhum, who was mistakenly suspected of involvement in a terrorist attack at the central bus station in Be’er Sheva on October 18 and an incident on October 21, 2015, in which an ultra-Orthodox guard named Simcha Hodadatov was shot dead in Jerusalem after being mistakenly suspected by soldiers.
It is no coincidence that, according to the dominant Israeli narrative, these are the only two cases of killing innocents at a period when scores of Arab citizens were fatally shot. In these two cases, the mistake in identification was clear – the casualties were not Arabs. The concept of an innocent Arab victim is simply not recognized in “Israeli speak”. If an Arab is hurt in any circumstances, the system makes sure to prove his guilt in retrospect. The same is true of Tatour herself – who warned against this system and became a victim of it. Because she was unjustly suspected and hurt, the entire system mobilized to prove her guilt in retrospect.
Three criminalized words: Intifada, Qawem, Shahid
The entire conviction revolves around Hebrew interpretation of three Arabic words that appear in the texts published by Tatour: Intifada, Qawem and Shahid.
The word “intifada” – shuddering – is used in various historical contexts to describe popular struggles against oppression. The judge criminalized the usage of this word by citing a ruling from Israel’s “Supreme Court” which discussed the case against the leader of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ra’ed Salah. The judge quotes this ruling at length, coming at end to the final conclusion: “This term has become a generic name for a violent Palestinian uprising… Any reasonable person will easily see that this is how this term is perceived by everyone…” (The verdict, page 200 of the trial’s protocol). Thus, the Israeli courts claim to be the final arbiter not only of matters of Israeli law, but also on the Arabic language. Moreover, they go under our skin and claim to know what we all think and what we understand when we hear the term intifada.
Tatour used the word “qawem” (resist) in her poem and in the tag of one of her posts. Is it forbidden to oppose government policy? In her police interrogations, the trial and the verdict, the police, the prosecution and the judge acted to prove that this was not legitimate resistance. In the absence of any call for violence in the statements published by Tatour, they tried to fill the gap with the desired violence by claiming that she had published a violent video in which you can see clashes between stone throwing Palestinian youth and soldiers firing at them. They also claimed that Tatour was responsible for the possible reactions of anyone who might see her publications, not only reasonable readers.
The Arabic word “shahid”, meaning “martyr”, has a simple Hebrew translation that is parallel to it in many ways – “halal” (חלל). In both languages this word can be used both for victims of disaster, war or occupation and for those who died in other tragic circumstances. Nevertheless, the interrogators, the prosecution and the judge insisted on using the Arabic word “shahid”. They consistently attribute to this word an aggressive meaning that doesn’t exist in Arabic.
During the trial, the defense provided extensive explanations, including by the expert witness Dr. Yoni Mendel, on the customary use of the title “shahid” for victims of the occupation. The fact that a Palestinian who was killed during a violent action against the occupation is also known as Shahid refers to the fact that he was killed, not to the violent action he carried out. The same is true with the Hebrew word “halal”, as IDF casualties are called “halalim” regardless of what they did, or did not do, before their death. Contrary to this evidence, the judge finally concluded that in fact this was a word with two different translations / meanings: “innocent victim” or “a terrorist”. Much of the verdict, as we shall see below, is based on this misconception and on the argument that Tatour’s statements about “martyrs” refer to “suicide terrorists” and would be understood as such by her readers.
The video and the poem
The first factual clause in the indictment, after the introductions, is the publication of the poem “Resist My People, Resist Them“. Its translation into Hebrew, which was done by a policeman from the Nazareth police, appears in full in the indictment. In order to attribute to the poem a violent character, which is not found in the words themselves, the prosecution turned to the manner in which the poem was published: On YouTube, Tatour reads the poem’s lyrics to the background of a video showing clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and occupation soldiers in the village of Silwad in the West Bank.
Tatour explained in her testimony in court that these are typical images of the reality of the occupation to which we are all routinely exposed for decades. The prosecutor tried to escalate the violence in the video. She repeated in the indictment, during the hearings and in her summaries the claim that the video contained “violent acts, including masked individuals throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the security forces and various disturbances.” The defense in its summaries noted that, throughout the video, no Molotov cocktails can be seen.
The judge’s reference in the verdict to the content of the video characterizes the approach of many judges who spent their best years in the prosecution and still operate from the same approach. First she cites the indictment in its entirety, including the Molotov cocktails. Later, when she describes the video with her own words, she omits the Molotov cocktails without mentioning the prosecution’s mistake. Instead, she demonstrates creativity and tries to fill in the lacunae in her own language, portraying the violence in the video as particularly grave. She writes:
“A video that is entirely violent, with masked men throwing stones not only by their hands, but also by using various means that look like ropes, intended to extend the range and increase the intensity of the damage. You see burning tires, burning of an Israeli flag, throwing stones at an army jeep, IDF soldiers filmed running after a suspect and unable to catch him, a woman arguing with IDF soldiers, IDF soldiers standing in front of demonstrators, and rioting.” (The verdict, p. 186 of the trial’s protocol).
It can be understood that, by her method, a woman who argues with soldiers is also an expression of violence and rioting…
Interpretation of the poem
During the trial, it seemed that the prosecutor gradually understood that there was a problem with an indictment based on a poem. In her cross examination of defense witnesses she began to put in doubt whether it was indeed a poem. In her summaries, the prosecutor has consistently refrained from naming it by the explicit word “poem” and has consistently used alternative phrases such as “the text accompanying the video.”
The judge, on the contrary, decided to take on the task of interpreting and judging poetry heads on. She diligently and meticulously printed side by side, line by line, the two translations that were submitted to her: the translation of the policeman and the alternative translation of the professional translator, Dr. Mendel, which was provided by the defense. After a detailed comparison of the two translations, the judge concluded that there is no substantive difference between them and that she prefers to base herself on the professional translation of Dr. Mendel. But, in practice, she uses the words of Dr. Mendel, while taking them out of context, in order to attribute to the poem the opposite meaning of what was written in the expert opinion he presented to the court.
Dr. Mendel, based on extensive research he has conducted on that subject, presented to the Court the phenomenon of non-translation of words from Arabic to Hebrew, and the subsequent demonization of their meaning in the Hebrew discourse. In this context he explained the line in the poem “Follow the convoy of martyrs”. He stated that the translation given by the policeman “and follow the convoy of shahids” is a clear example of the distortion of meaning created by non-translation. In the Hebrew connotation, the term shahid was demonized and might be mistakenly understood as a “suicide bomber”. From all of Dr. Mendel’s opinion, the judge adopts only his comment related to the misinterpretation that might be given to this line in the poem by the Hebrew readers of the mistranslation. On this basis she states that the defense witness:
“explicitly noted that he does not dispute that it was written in the poem, in literal translation: “Follow the convoy of “shahids””, a phrase that can be understood as “a call by the poet to go out and attack Israelis, and thus become a shahid and join terrorist-shahids who harmed Israelis” (the verdict, p. 190 of the trial transcript).
In this way Mendel’s explicit warning of wrong translation (actually of non-translation) leading to erroneous interpretation is used as justification for adopting this misinterpretation.
In the course of the police investigations and her testimony in the court, Tatour made it clear that the martyrs that are mentioned in her poem are… the same martyrs that are explicitly mentioned in the poem itself: the children who were burned for no reason (Muhammad Abu Khdeir and Ali Dawabsha), Hadeel al-Hashlamoun who was shot at an army checkpoint in al-Khalil (Hebron) – all victims of the occupation and the settlers’ terror.
Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was shot in an army checkpoint in al-Khalil.
The judge, in her decision to interpret the line “Follow the convoy of martyrs” as incitement to violence, expands her authority from legal matters into the depths of poetry. She states that it is impossible that the martyrs mentioned in line 11 in the poem are in any way related to those innocents – as those are mentioned in a completely different place, in lines 15-26 of the poem! On the contrary, the judge decided that the martyrs are clearly “suicide bombers”, although there is no mention of such actions in the poem or in the accompanying video. But bloody terrorists are always everywhere in Israeli consciousness wherever Palestinian resistance is mentioned. Finally, although the martyrs in line 11 are not related to the victims in line 15 and on, the opposite connection clearly exists, as the judge writes:
“A reasonable person who looks into the poem will immediately understand that the words: “They burned the children without a reason and they sniped Hadeel in public” were intended to increase the incitement, to explain, motivate and justify the acts of the uprising to the settlers’ robbery, to follow the shahids, and to tear the agreement” (the verdict, p. 192 of the trial’s protocol).
Baby Ali Dawabsheh with his parents. They were all burned to death by Israeli settlers. The judge said that commemorating them in the poem could only be for incitement to violence.
After all, as is clear to every reasonable Israeli, it is impossible that a Palestinian poet would sincerely cry for the victims of her people or aspire to prevent further victims – any mention of them, of course, is only for incitement.
Finally, in the summary of the convicting decision about the poem, the judge states:
“This is a poem that includes a call to follow the convoy of “shahids”, a word associated with perpetrators of murderous attacks on ideological grounds, as well as with martyrs and victims. The connotation in the poem was clarified.” (ibid, p. 202).
Here the judge closes the circle of guilt – from the violence that does not exist in the poem itself through the stone throwing in the background clip to the inevitable conclusion… “perpetrators of murderous attacks”!
Israa Abed and the next martyr
A particularly Kafkaesque trap was the accusation in “incitement to violence” based on the publication of an image of Israa Abed lying on the floor of the central bus station in Afula after she was shot, as the background image for Tatour’s Facebook page, alongside a profile picture with the writing “I am the next martyr”. In her interrogations, Tatour recounted how she kept looking at the video showing the moment Israa was shot and was convinced that she was not going to attack anyone. Tatour and other activists used the writing “I am the next martyr” to protest against unjustified killing – from the time of the murder of the young Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem in July 2014 and the subsequent murder of Kheir Hamdan by Israeli police in Kafr Kana in November 2014. The meaning is simple – when Arabs are killed indiscriminately, each one of us can be a victim.
In practice, indeed, barely a day has passed since Israa Abed was suspected and shot, and suspicions fell on Dareen Tatour – precisely because of the publication of Israa’s picture and the protest writing. Luckily Tatour was not shot but detained. However, after it became clear that this was a false suspicion, the legal authorities began to carry out a legal “confirmation of killing”.
Fortunately, Israa Abed herself survived the shooting. Even before the indictment was filed against Tatour, an indictment was filed against Abed, in the same court, attributing to her the possession of a knife and threats, but not assault and no intention of carrying out an attack. This did not prevent the police officers, who testified in court, from claiming that Tatour had published the picture of “the terrorist.” Even in her summaries, the prosecutor reiterated her claim that what Tatour knew at the time of the publication of the picture was that Abed “came to stab Jews”, because that was what was claimed at the time in the Israeli media. Again, the prosecution demands monopoly over everyone’s consciousness – as if Tatour must believe the lies of the Israeli media and not what she saw in the video documenting the events.
The judge, like Alexander the Great at the time, solved this Gordian knot with a sword. She removed Israa Abed from this case also, claiming that the link between the publication of her picture and the inscription “I am the next martyr” was not proven. On the other hand, she reiterated her position that Tatour uses the word “shahid” in the sense of “suicide bomber” and therefore determined that the publication of the status “I am the next martyr” in itself constitutes incitement to violence.
How was “support for a terrorist organization” added?
During the trial we spoke with lawyers who know the “rules of the game” in the Israeli legal system. Almost no one expected that Tatour would be acquitted, no matter how unfounded the charges against her. Anyone who tried to be optimistic said that the judge, in an attempt to show some balance, might acquit Tatour at least from the charge of “supporting a terrorist organization.” This accusation is based entirely on the following status, published on Facebook, as it was translated to Hebrew in the indictment:
“Allah Akbar(*) and praise his name… The Islamic Jihad movement declares in a statement the continuation of the Intifada across the West Bank… continuation means expansion… That is, to all Palestine… And we have to begin inside the Green Line… To the victory of Al-Aqsa and we declare it a general Intifada…#Resist”.
(*)The indictment – while translating this quote into Hebrew – leaves “Allahu Akbar”, meaning “God is Greater”, in Hebraized Arabic.
Apart from a minor inaccuracy in the translation (“loyalty” to al-Aqsa, not “victory”), there was no dispute about the publication itself. Tatour explained that she had copied this status from some site because of her support for the popular struggle for the right to pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque, a struggle that was expanding at that time into what she thought deserved the name intifada. She did not attach much importance to the mention of Islamic Jihad. Taking into account the prosecution’s method to attribute a violent character to any type of Palestinian struggle, it is clear how this status is interpreted as incitement to violence. But “Islamic Jihad” is only mentioned as a matter of fact as someone who called for an intifada in the West Bank, as opposed to “us” who have to wage a struggle within the Green Line. So where is the support here?
Dareen at home – still under house arrest, waiting the final sentencing on July 31. Using the time to write more poems.
Two experienced police interrogators who repeatedly interrogated Tatour about this short status asked her only about the call for intifada, and did not attribute to her any support to “Islamic Jihad”. Only when the interrogation material reached the State Attorney’s Office for the preparation of an indictment, somebody up there decided to convert the case into a “state security” affair by adding the clause about “support of a terrorist organization”. Among other things, the addition of this section helped to extend the detention of Tatour until the end of the legal proceedings, and hence her transfer to house arrest with electronic bracelet, her forced deportation from the area and all the abuse that she has undergone in the past three years as a “danger to state security”.
In her attempt to justify the conviction and cover for the lack of evidence in the text that Tatour published, the judge not only interprets the text, but also rewrites it in her language in a way that is fundamentally different from the original:
“The perpetrator publishes a publication in the name of a murderous terrorist organization, Islamic Jihad, a publication that is not simple but calls for an all-out intifada in all of Palestine, including the Green Line, with the organization’s name at the top of the message” (the verdict, p. 206 of the protocol).
To make this even clearer, the judge even repeats it again.
“A murderous terrorist organization declares in a declaration of a general intifada within the Green Line – and the accused supports the organization by way of distributing the declaration”. (ibid)
Not by mistake
Tatour was mistakenly suspected and the entire investigation into her case began from this mistake. But her conviction is not a mistake. She was clearly identified as a proud Palestinian Arab who resists her oppression and the oppression of her people. For this she was convicted.
Identifying and understanding the Arab, men and women, the ability to expose her or his hidden thoughts and dark intentions, is the specialty of every “reasonable” Israeli. It begins with children’s literature, when we read in the children’s adventure novels Hasamba lines like “the Egyptian officer picked up the phone viciously and smiled cruelly.”
Even if ostensibly everything the Arab does is to distort his face in pain when the Israeli soldier steps on his neck, the system will always be able to identify his hidden aggressive intentions.