Literary world rages as Israel convicts Palestinian poet of incitement

Literary world rages as Israel convicts Palestinian poet of incitement
Dareen Tatour has been charged with incitement to violence for posting a poem online calling Palestinians to 'resist', in a case that has angered free speech advocates the world over.
4 min read
04 May, 2018
Tatour's case highlights grave legal injustices for Palestinian citizens of Israel [Getty]

An Israeli court on Thursday convicted Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour of incitement to violence and "support for a terror organisation" in a poem she published on social media, signalling a bitter end to a case that has shed light on injustices over freedom of speech and online surveillance of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The charge sheet said that in October 2015, as a wave of violence was gathering force in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Tatour posted a video clip of herself reading her poem "Resist, my people, resist them," accompanied by pictures of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Tatour, who denied all charges, said her poem had been misinterpreted by the Israeli authorities.

She insisted she was not calling for violence through her poem, but for a struggle, which Israeli authorities had assumed to be violent.

Literary and translation experts were called in to decipher the poem's meaning, specifically over the use of the word shaheed, meaning "martyr".

Read more: The 'A' word: Is Israel's censorship strategy sustainable?

"The Israeli hears 'shaheed' and sees an aggressor. The Palestinian sees a victim. That's a big difference. One sees an attacker blowing up a bus, the other sees a child shot by soldiers," translation expert Yonatan Mendel told the court in March 2017, according to Reuters.

A translation into English of the poem, posted on the Arabic literature and translation site ArabLit, contains the following lines.

They were quoted in Hebrew in the charge sheet.

"For an Arab Palestine, I will not succumb to the 'peaceful solution,' Never lower my flags, Until I evict them from my land, Resist the settler's robbery, And follow the caravan of martyrs."

The prosecution added that on October 4, Tatour quoted a statement by Islamic Jihad calling for "continuation of the intifada in every part of the West Bank" and it said that showed her support for the outlawed militant group.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled to start on May 31, in which Tatour could get  up to five years behind bars.

Tatour, from the Arab village of Reineh near Nazareth, was arrested on October 11 and charged on November 2, 2015.

She has been deemed by Israeli authorities as a "threat to public safety" and been under house arrest since January 2016, during which she has also been denied access to the internet.

Tatour's case sheds light on the advanced online surveillance methods used by the Israeli authorities to sift through social media content to find evidence of incitement to violence.

The unrest that erupted in October 2015 subsequently claimed the lives of at least 303 Palestinians, 51 Israelis, two Americans, two Jordanians, one Eritrean, one Sudanese and one Briton, according to AFP.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out attacks, or shot dead during protests or clashes with Israeli forces, while some were killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

Discrimination, oppression, injustice

Literary figures have rallied around Tatour's cause since her charge. International writers group Pen defended Tatour in a statement on Thursday.

"Dareen Tatour has been convicted for doing what writers do every day - we use our words to peacefully challenge injustice," it said.

American poet Eileen Myles was one of twelve writers to give a statement of solidarity, saying: "Israel’s claim to be a democracy is roundly trounced by this attempt to silence Dareen Tatour. Language lives and dies in poetry and the human cry for freedom breathes in a poets utterance."

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Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the treatment of the poet was very different to that meted out to Jewish Israelis in similar circumstances.

She cited the case of lawmaker Betzalel Smotrich who last month wrote on Twitter that it was a pity that Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi had not been shot in the knee rather than sent to prison.

Tamimi was jailed in March for eight months for slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers outside her home near Ramallah in the West Bank in December, when she was aged 16.

Smotrich implied that a gunshot to the knee would have left the young girl permanently disabled.

"She would have been under house arrest for the rest of her life," the lawmaker tweeted.

In a statement, Ashrawi said: "Smotrich was not held accountable for inciting to violence or supporting acts of terror against Palestinians."

Agencies contributed ot this report.