In July 2014, when a 16-year-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 were not very concerned about preventing or punishing violence when the perpetrators are Jewish and the victims are Arab. After Abu Khdeir was killed, protests erupted all over the country. Hundreds of Arab activists shared a meme on Facebook, designed like obituary that read: “I’m the next martyr.” The meaning was clear for everybody: because a Palestinian child was randomly kidnapped from their streets and murdered, any Palestinian can be the next victim.
More than a year later in October 2015, this very same image appeared as the profile picture for the Facebook page of poet Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Israeli “intelligence” agents wrongly translated the text over the picture as a declaration that Tatour intended to carry out 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. During Tatour’s first interrogation police told her that she wrote that she wants to be a martyr (“shahida” in Arabic). Soon the authorities understood their language mistake, but they would not apologize and let their victim go free. They started digging deeper into Tatour’s Facebook page and found a poem and some posts that they also maliciously mistranslated, 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 then 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 Yaffa’s (Jaffa) “Arab-Hebrew Theater” on August 30, 2017, before Tatour’s trial will resume. They prepared a rich artistic program including reading from Tatour’s poetry and original works by other poets, and will stage a reading from the trial’s transcripts (the full text of the invitation of the program is cited below).
On Monday 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 30. It aims to cut the budget of the theater and might even end with the theater having to pay a punitive high fine of up to $830,000 (3 million NIS).
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 an anti-democratic agenda.
It all started with one “Shai Glick,” who is sometimes mentioned as the CEO of an organization called “Bezalmo – Jewish human rights organization.” This organization called 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 was selected for the event page (copied here) is an example of the worst kind of bloody propaganda. Until 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 the Israeli “mainstream” site Maariv reported (in Hebrew) that as a result of a complaint by Glick, a little known Knesset member from the governing Likud party, Sharren Haskel, sent a concerned letter to Regev, the Culture minister, reporting the solidarity event and repeating Glick’s accusations. The letter requested the minister “handle it”.
Hence comes the current initiative by Minister Regev, demanding an investigation by the ministry of finance which is responsible for the financing of theaters and has the authority to reduce or abolish funding, or impose 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.
But the so-called “Nakba law” is not only about commemorating the Nakba. It counts many possible offenses 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 for their own plays and programs but also to the contents of any event held on their premises. 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 basis 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?
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 30 solidarity event
Here is the full text of the invitation, with the detailed program, taken for the event’s Facebook page:
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.
A version of this article was originally published by the Free Haifa blog on August 22, 2017.