Over 150 renowned writers, poets, translators, artists and literary figures signed an open letter in solidarity with Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour. Susan Abulhawa, Rae Armantrout, Carl Dennis, Dave Eggers, Carolyn Forché, Jorie Graham, Naomi Klein, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Naomi Shihab Nye, Claudia Rankine, Tracy K Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Ayelet Waldman, Alice Walker and Jacqueline Woodson were among the award-winning literary figures who joined the call for the immediate release of the Palestinian poet who was imprisoned for her poetry. (Full list of signers here).
Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, is one of over 400 Palestinians arrested by Israel since last fall for political statements on social media. Tatour’s ordeal began in October 2015, when she was arrested in the middle of the night. She has been charged with incitement to violence and terrorism based on Facebook postings and a poem posted to YouTube called “Qawim ya sha’abi, qawimhum” (Resist my people, resist them). Tatour spent the first three months of her detention in three different prisons before being transferred to house arrest. The court has insisted that she be kept 40 km away from her home because of the ‘danger’ she posed to the public. Tatour’s brother was obliged to quit his job and his studies in order to fulfil his role as the court appointed ward in an apartment in Tel Aviv rented for that purpose for the duration of her legal proceedings. Tatour will appeal to be allowed to transfer to house arrest in her hometown at a hearing on July 18. Her hearings are scheduled to continue to until September, when she could be sentenced to additional time in prison if convicted.
The letter signed by literary notables marks the launch of an international solidarity campaign organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah-NY to demand the release of Tatour and to draw attention to the widespread arrests and detentions of Palestinians for political expression on social media, as well as Israel’s targeting of Palestinian writers and artists.
The signers of the letter are some of the most respected and renowned individuals in the arts and literary worlds: including nine Pulitzer Prize winners, several National Book Award recipients and United States poet laureates, many Guggenheim Fellowship recipients, an NAACP Image Award winner, many Lambda Literary Award winners, and scores of recipients of the highest U.S. writing, poetry, translation, and arts honors: including Tony Awards, Grammy Awards, Obie Awards, PEN/Open Book Awards, National Book Critics Circle Awards, Kenyon Review Award, Pushcart Awards, LA Times Book Awards, and MLA Prizes.
The letter states: “We believe in the rights of artists and writers to freely express their artistic vision, and share work freely. The Israeli government’s actions reveal a desire to silence Tatour, part of a larger pattern of Israeli repression against all Palestinians. Expressing resistance to oppression and Occupation through poetry is by nature non-violent and should not be criminalized by any government.”
Award-winning poet, songwriter, and novelist, Naomi Shihab Nye, referred to the way Tatour’s use of the word “resistance” has been criminalized: “The word “resist” – when it is resisting oppression and inequality – will always be a gleaming, beautiful, positive word. In fact, it needs to be said more often.”
Stefanie Fox, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, noted, “It is heartening to see such luminaries of the literary world speak out against this blatant injustice. Writers and poets around the world know that poetry is not, and must not be, a crime. Israel has made it clear that it would rather imprison a Palestinian poet for a poem that is critical of governmental policies than change those policies. Israel has chosen to silence Palestinian cultural workers rather than heed their calls for freedom, justice, and equality. Tatour’s case is a powerful example of the need to continue fighting for fundamental change.”
Mohammad Hamad from Adalah-NY commented, “The criminalization of Dareen Tatour’s poetry and political expression is, sadly, routine for Palestinian cultural workers, both for citizens of Israel and residents of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. We could name a dozen more examples. We are encouraged by the response from the literary community to Dareen’s case and hope it signifies to all people of good conscience that the time has come to stand on the side of justice for Palestinians.”
Dareen Tatour recently told the Israeli daily Haaretz: “I never imagined that in a democratic country, I would not be allowed to write and publish….I cannot live without poetry. For me to be a poet without a pen and without feelings. But if I cannot mourn for my compatriots who are being killed, how will I be able to be a poet?”
The full list of signers of the open letter is available here and will be updated as new signatories join.