But will it make a difference?
It is more than 9 months since Dareen Tatour, the Palestinian poet from Reineh, was arrested and accused of inciting violence… all for one poem, two statuses and sharing the image of Israa Abed. She spent three months in three different prisons and is now confined to a small apartment in a suburb of Tel Aviv, more than a hundred kilometers away from her home and friends.
When I wrote the first article about Dareen’s detention (in Hebrew), published in “Siha Mekomit” (local call), on April 16, I concluded:
“The fact that a poet was arrested and tried under such baseless accusations is the result not only of the racist system (police, prosecution, judiciary), but also of the indifference of public opinion. Where are the poets and writers when we need them to protect the freedom of expression?”
To be honest, the response was more than anything I expected.
Through the last month, we had not only a hearing of Dareen’s request to alleviate the conditions of her detention on Monday 27/6, but also a demonstration in Yaffa (Saturday 25/6), a poetry night in Tel Aviv (also 27/6) and another in Haifa (Thursday 30/6) and high profile media cover.
And then was published an amazing petition calling for the release of Dareen, signed by many important poets and writers!
But let’s start with Dareen’s news…
No News from the Northern Front
Since her transfer from prison to house detention, Dareen is held in very harsh conditions. The prosecution waged guerilla warfare to prevent or delay her transfer and refuse any option that was proposed to the court, appealing against any decision that went a small step in Dareen’s way. The result was that Dareen is now closed 24 hours a day in a small apartment that her brother was forced to rent in Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv. She wears an electronic device on her ankle that monitors all her movements. But her two volunteer guards are still obliged to stay with her 24 hours a day “to make sure she doesn’t connect to the internet”, or they will pay a high fine and Dareen will be returned to jail. They both have to work opposite shifts and had to stop their studies. The lives of three people came to a standstill for unlimited period.
Dareen’s lawyer, Abed Fahoum, submitted a request to the Nazareth court, to transfer Dareen’s detention back to the family’s home in Reineh. As the prosecution refused, for different reasons, all proposed “guards”, the new request listed six possible new guards, in addition to Dareen’s parents. It took more than a month till the court set the date to study the request on June 27.
The prosecution position was very sharp. There is no reason to even hear the request, as there is nothing new in the case. After half a year of house detention the prosecution will typically agree for softening the conditions – but not in Dareen’s case. Judge Idris is already traumatized after the many hearings he already held about Dareen’s detention and after several of his decision were overturned on appeal. He clearly wanted the prosecution to soften its position, but as there was no sign of it he left Dareen under the same harsh conditions until a second hearing on July 18.
Dareen burst in tears in the court as she heard of the decision. She said before that if her conditions are not alleviated she may request to go back to prison. But now she will hold her breath until July 18.
The lawyer also requested to let Dareen to spend the Eid al-Fitr next week with her family. The prosecution lawyer requested to call his superiors, and then requested to answer that request in writing within two days. The written answer, apparently from the higher circles in the Nazareth prosecution, was sharp objection. In the end the judge decided to let Dareen stay with her family only a day and a half of the Eid’s three days…
From Yaffa’s clock square to Haaretz Editorial
The first vigil in solidarity with Dareen was help in Nazareth on April 13. It gave a great push to the media coverage of the case.
A second vigil was initiated in Yaffa (Jaffa) by local Palestinian activists. It concentrated on Dareen’s case but raised also the issue of administrative detention of Palestinian activists. Some fifty activists took part with significant presence of the media, including Al-Jazeera and Haaretz.
On Sunday there were two articles in Haaretz: one by Vered Lee contained many interviews that she held in the vigil, including with Dareen’s father; the other about the planned poetry events. On Monday morning, the day of the hearing concerning Dareen’s detention conditions, Haaretz editorial in Hebrew and English called for Dareen’s release.
The Hebrew Poet’s Letter
As the case drags on in court, there was time enough for many poets to wake up and take a stand. At the initiative of poet Tal Nitzan, the following letter was written:
We, poets, writers and members of the academy, are shocked and appalled by the arrest of Dareen Tatour and the charges she is facing for publishing a poem online and status updates on Facebook. Dareen Tatour, an Israeli citizen, has been imprisoned for three months and is now under a severely limiting house arrest awaiting her trial, for publishing a poem online.
This is a clear case of unjust silencing and a severe violation of freedom of speech and protest, a new and grave stage in the deterioration of human rights in Israel, and a shameful proceeding that is befitting a totalitarian state and is unacceptable in a so called democratic state.
This prosecution of an Arab poet is particularly disturbing considering the law enforcement authorities disregard for the violent, racist and much more extreme content posted by Jewish citizens daily. This is a practice of double standard and a biased oppression, intolerable in a state that presumes to practice equality before the law. http://bit.ly/1Jf17Sp
As writers, deeply committed to freedom of speech and human rights, we will not stand by. We demand freedom for Dareen Tatour and withdrawal of the charges against her.
Poetry Evening in Tel Aviv
Tal Nitzan also collaborated with colleagues in organizing two poetry events in Tel Aviv and in Haifa. The event in Tel Aviv was held in the “Sipur Pashut” (simple story) library in Neve Zedek. A long list of poets, writers and academics announced their participation. I copy it here for you from the event’s page on Facebook:
Dr. Ilana Hammerman
Dr. Anat Matar
Alma Miriam Catz
Esti G. Haim
Roy Chicky Arad
Raanan Ben Tovim
Maki Hacham Neeman
Hila Aharon Brik
I succeeded to arrive there after the court hearing, and, though being completely tired, I was very impressed both with the dense presence – people literally climbed one above the other to find a place – and by the thoughtful selection of texts and special words that were prepared for the event.
At the end of the evening Tal Nitzan read a thank you letter from Dareen to all the people that support her in her hard experience.
If you know Hebrew you can read a detailed report about the event in a site called Mako that covers cultural activities.
Another Poetry Evening in Haifa
The first poetry event in solidarity with Dareen was actually held back in May 5, 2016, in Haifa Al-Ghad club, at the initiative of Herak Haifa. Five young Palestinian poets participated, reading theirs and Dareen’s poetry.
But now the initiative came from Hebrew writing poets and they didn’t want it to be confined to Tel Aviv alone. We looked for a place that will be more identified with the Jewish society in Haifa and agreed with “Isha L’Isha” (Woman for Woman) feminist center to host the event. Later on the organizers received threats from right wing activists and we had to find a new place at short notice. We went back to Palestinian Haifa, where Al-Yakhour youth hostel was happy to host us and the right wing activists didn’t even bother to call.
Being in Haifa, there were Arab and Jew poets, all gathering in the open air entrance of Al-Yakhour for the event. Here is the list of the readers from the invitation:
Sigal Ben Yair
Heiam Abu Zuluf
Sabrina De Rita
Rajaa Zoabi Omari
Some of them didn’t really show up – but the virtual participation meant making a democratic stance in support of Dareen and Free Speech.
Poet Lilach Weber even wrote a special poem called “The Right Side of History” about Dareen’s persecution for poetry, which she published in Ha-Oketz and read to us in that evening.
I had the honor to thank the participants in the name of the organizers. I emphasized that our solidarity with Dareen Tatour is not because her case is so special but mostly because her case is an example of the similar fate of hundreds of Palestinian youth that are persecuted for expressing their resistance to Israeli racism and occupation. I added that even the general repression of the right of expression and free speech is not the heart of the problem but more like a symptom. When you hold millions of people without basic human rights and no democratic way to control their lives or decide their future, resistance and repression are the natural results.
More Poetic Solidarity
The poetry world has its own ways to express solidarity.
A Hebrew poetry magazine named “Maayan” (spring) decided to give Dareen its prize for “Poet in Struggle” – with an attached check of 500 shekel.
Finally came also the heavy armory of literature, in the form of the following press release:
Nine Pulitzer-Winners among 150+ Literary Figures Calling for Israel to Free Palestinian Poet
Poetry is Not a Crime: Alice Walker, Claudia Rankine, Dave Eggers, Natasha Trethewey & hundreds of others join solidarity campaign for Dareen Tatour imprisoned for a poem.
Tomorrow, Sunday, July 17, at 4:00 pm, there should be another of the main trial against Dareen, with more policemen coming to testify about the “confessions” that they extracted from her, from her computer and from her cellphone.
On Monday, July 18, at 9:00 am, judge Idris is expected to decide about Dareen request to go back to Reineh, even if under strict house detention.
We all hope that the public pressure so far (and some common sense) will be enough at least to let the court counter the prosecution’s pressure and allow Dareen to return home. Otherwise Dareen may prefer to go back to prison – at least her detention period in prison (unlike house detention) may be counted in case that she will be sentenced for more time in prison.
Later, in September, the court will start to hear the defense case. A lot is at stake there. The defense will state that Dareen’s poem and Facebook statuses are perfectly legitimate artistic and political expressions. Can you convince an Israeli judge to recognize this? Farther more, the defense will claim that the whole prosecution apparatus in Israel is systematically targeting Palestinians for legitimate expression of political opposition while it totally ignores severe incitement for violence by right wing Zionists against Arabs. It is a lot to prove – and there is plenty of evidence to support it – but will the court be ready to hear it?
If Dareen Tatour is finally convicted, which is a very possible result, the accusations against her can carry up to 8 years in prison. By the latest cases in Israeli courts sentences of around 1 year of imprisonment seem to be quite common.
We have a long and hard struggle for Dareen and for Democracy ahead.