The Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour has been detained by Israel for two years now, in prisons and then under strict house arrest near Nazareth. “She is allowed to go out of her house only for 2 hours a day, from 17:00 till 19:00.” She must be accompanied by “guardians” at all times– family members who have posted large sums with the Israeli government to back their promise that they will now allow Tatour to get on the internet!
What is her crime? The 35-year-old citizen of Israel was charged with incitement to violence and support of terrorism, due to three acts in 2015:
–Publishing the poem “Resist My People, Resist Them” on her Youtube channel and Facebook page.
–A Facebook post calling for an intifada within the green line to support Muslims’ access to the Al-Aqsa mosque.
–A Facebook post describing a Palestinian woman shot by Israeli police as “the next martyr.”
Tatour’s case has been the focus of a global campaign of support, including from PEN International. And the good news is that PEN America has full-throatedly joined that campaign: the poet is PEN America’s “October featured case.”
PEN gives an excellent description of the crudeness of the Israeli case:
The prosecution of Tatour is of particular concern, as it not only threatens principles of free expression for Palestinian authors, but also represents more broadly an attempt by the Israeli government to litigate the meaning of a piece of literature. The government has based their case primarily on Tatour’s use of the word shahid, both within her poem and in an October 9, 2015, Facebook post of a photograph of Isra’a Abed, an Arab-Israeli woman shot by security officers.
It describes the growing intolerance toward free expression inside Israeli government:
As the October 17 verdict nears, the Israeli government has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward solidarity efforts in support of Tatour. On August 30, the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa hosted an event that included readings of court transcripts from Tatour’s hearings as well her previously published poetry. In response to the event, the Israeli Finance Ministry has called for a hearing on reducing the funding of the theater for violating the so-called Nakba Law.
And it cheers on the international campaign:
Artists outside Israel and Palestine have also been coordinating support for Tatour. Over 8,000 people, including Alice Walker, Eileen Myles, Rita Dove, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, have signed a petition calling for her immediate release. In an interview from August 2016, Tatour expressed optimism in the efficacy of support efforts, stating, “I believe that public pressure may force the Israeli authorities to reconsider the persecution of Palestinian artists, writers and young activists just because they express their rejection of oppression.”
PEN America’s support for Tatour is significant not just to the hope that Tatour will be freed, but as a sign of the firm place that Palestinian rights have gained on the American left. Time was when PEN would have balked at such a bold support of a Palestinian artist who used the term martyr. PEN got funding from the Israeli government for its annual world voices literature festival. But earlier this year, under the steady pressure of Adalah-NY, PEN did not take the Israeli money.
And now it is taking on the Israeli government directly, over its totalitarian response to a Palestinian artist. You will see that in its description of the case, PEN highlights the fact that the Israeli government has denied a Palestinian poet access to the internet for two years because she celebrates Palestinian resistance to occupation. Some democracy!
PEN America is headed by Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official who advocated for Israel under Hillary Clinton. Facing an Adalah-NY campaign to boycott Israel, Nossel has given Adalah, Verso and O/R Books the time of day (to reverse the old expression); and while her public statements have been tactical, it certainly appears that she has been listening.
PEN’s support for Tatour is an echo of Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest applause line at a Labour conference in Britain when he called for an end to Palestinian oppression, and an echo too of the conference I attended in Minneapolis last weekend linking the Palestinian struggle for liberation to the pursuit of Native American and African-American rights in the U.S.
The progressive community is today fully invested in the urgency of protecting Palestinian human rights; and liberal cultural institutions are being swept along in that spirit. So– hat’s off to PEN America for its valiant support for Dareen Tatour.
(Tatour was scheduled to have a court hearing yesterday, but Yoav Haifawi reports it was postponed till November.)