In the late afternoon of July 26, 2016, Dareen Tatour briefly found herself a free woman. For a fleeting, puzzling hour and a half, the young Palestinian poet who is being aggressively prosecuted by the State of Israel for “incitement to violence” found herself standing alone by the side of the road outside Damon prison.
This strange turn of events is just the latest evidence of a remarkable ineptitude in a trial that lays bare the defective machinery of a rigged criminal justice system. Since last year hundreds of Palestinians like Tatour have been arrested for their political social media posts, while not a single Jewish citizen of Israel has been jailed for posting shockingly violent statements, including high-level officials such as MK Ayelet Shaked whose inflammatory, even genocidal anti-Palestinian statement on Facebook garnered 4000 likes, and she was appointed Minister of Justice within the year.
The events that led up to Dareen Tatour’s unexpected moment of “freedom” were set in motion at the Nazareth court house on Monday, July 25 at 9 a.m. This session was supposed to be a perfunctory hearing to enact the compromise agreement reached between the prosecution and the defense that Dareen should be allowed to serve her house arrest in her family home in Reineh. While this punishment is still unjust, it represents a vast improvement after three months in prison and seven months of house arrest in Tel Aviv under extremely trying conditions.
Instead of an “in and out” session, the hearing dragged on until the afternoon because of two seemingly innocuous kinks in the bureaucratic process. The presiding judge, Judge Hana Sabbagh, wanted to ensure that Dareen had at least five viable custodians (family members who are appointed as guards) at home, and the court was also still waiting for the official certification from the security company that the electronic monitoring device could be properly installed in Dareen’s home.
Despite the fact that Dareen had recently been given a pass to visit her family for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr without the equipment being set up in her residence, Judge Sabbagh insisted now that she could not return, even for a day, unless the security company had sent the proper certification. Instead of opting for one-day leniency, he sent her back to prison on Monday night. What should have been a routine hearing turned into another ordeal that left her and her family exhausted and demoralized.
By Tuesday afternoon, the ever smiling and patient Dareen was back in court again, this time heavily guarded and confined behind a wood and glass partition. As usual the courtroom benches were filled with supporters. The missing document that the judge had requested was provided, and everything was in order. It was already understood that the only change in the conditions of Dareen’s detention would be her transfer to Reineh. Everything else would remain the same: for the duration of the trial she was to spend twenty-four hours a day at her home with no internet access—with a two-hour reprieve to leave the premises three times a week—monitored and accompanied.
But, once the judge finally arrived (more than an hour late), the lawyer for the prosecution tried to extort a last minute intensification of the harshness of Dareen’s conditions as a price for her own “generosity.” She requested that Dareen’s two-hour leave would be abolished and Dareen would not be allowed to leave the house at all. Fortunately the judge refused that eleventh hour request. So the same conditions of house arrest will apply in Reineh, and if any of these terms are broken, her family custodians will each have to pay a stiff fine of ten thousand shekels and she will be returned to prison.
As soon as the judge delivered the ruling, Dareen’s family and supporters congregated downstairs expecting her imminent release. But though all the originally requested paperwork was complete, the judge suddenly and unexpectedly decided to keep Dareen in prison until the security company finished its technical preparations. Again we found ourselves in the midst of a flurry of onerous and pointless bureaucratic requests from both the judge and the security company, clearly designed to impose maximum aggravation and stress, especially as the court workers strike was still underway.
At 4:30 pm Dareen was inexplicably taken away by the Nakhshon, a notoriously aggressive unit that specializes in transferring prisoners. The officers dropped off some other detainees at Jalami prison near Haifa, and then received a phone call instructing them to take Dareen to Damon prison on Mount Carmel. And here is where the story takes a bizarre turn.
Once at the gates, the prison officials told Dareen that she could not come inside—because she was officially listed as “released.” It was late in the afternoon and the Nakhshon drivers wanted to go home, so they simply dropped Dareen by the side of the road and drove off without her. She was stranded on the mountain with no phone, no money, and no idea how this surreal thing could be happening.
While the indictment against Dareen Tatour claims that her actions have “established the concrete possibility that violent or terrorist acts would be committed;” and while the state has deemed her too much a threat to have access to the internet, or to be free on her own recognizance—the state’s functionaries nevertheless left her unguarded outside the prison. After several requests, Dareen convinced the officials at Damon to let her use their telephone to call home. Her father came to pick her up, and she finally arrived at home in Reineh at nine that night.
This strange lapse in the Israeli security system is just one of the mounting pile of anomalies in this baseless case. When Dareen finally returned home to great celebrations—the home monitoring device that was to be installed and calibrated to her ankle monitor had not even been brought to the house.
At approximately the same time that Dareen had been dropped outside Damon prison, the security company had actually placed a phone call to Dareen’s brother, asking him to drive down to Tel Aviv two hours away to retrieve the old monitoring device from her last site of house arrest.
The company who dispatched a defendant’s younger brother on this peculiar and inconvenient errand is the largest security firm in the world, G4S. The enormous, octopal British company that operates in 120 countries around the world is the target of a very well-organized and hugely successful BDS campaign, due to its integral role in maintaining Israel’s illegal occupation and human rights abuses. Under increasing scrutiny and pressure, G4S has claimed that it plans to sell off its Israeli subsidiary, but this hasn’t happened yet.
In the meantime, one would think that a multi-million dollar company like G4S would be able to provide their own monitoring devices on time without having to resort to sending one of the defendant’s relatives to retrieve it.
But even this is not the final installment of careless blunders and tiresome inconveniences. In fact, the company’s technician didn’t arrive to initiate the device until two o’clock in the morning.
For that five-hour window of time, Dareen was “free” again, to gallivant around the Galilee if she so chose, which of course she didn’t. Too tired after a long week of enduring the excruciating banality of evil.
One of the great myths of Israel is the legend of its invincible intelligence, counter-terrorism, and security services. The Israelis have been called upon to help train police, intelligence services, and military units from around the world, including police forces who travel regularly from the US. But the state’s apparent lack of concern about Dareen’s actual whereabouts demonstrates one of two things: either the Israeli security services are inept by their own terms and definitions, or they have already caught a whiff of the obvious—that the mild-mannered poet Dareen poses no security threat whatsoever—and that this trial is entirely a political stunt.
If the state has reached the latter conclusion, then the judge should intervene and dismiss the charges immediately. Unfortunately, the first scenario seems more plausible. There are all kinds of cracks in a system that is already flawed for Palestinian political prisoners. None of these cracks are likely to help Dareen in the long run. The oppressed are always the first to pay the price for a broken system.
In truth, the outlook for an acquittal is bleak. For Palestinians tried in military courts the conviction rate is 99.74%. As a citizen of Israel, Dareen is being tried in a civilian court, but the biases and assumptions that undergird the prosecution and rulings in such cases generally erode any hope for equal justice.
Where does this leave Dareen Tatour now?
It leaves her, for now, at home—for all but six hours a week–awaiting her next hearing in September.
On a positive note, Dareen can now sit outdoors in her own front yard under the olive trees. She can receive neighbors, relatives, and friends; and she can do what Palestinians do extremely well: sit, drink coffee, and socialize. She can also continue to write, photograph, and learn the guitar. She hopes to find a skilled tutor to come and work on her English with her.
On a negative note, if Dareen accidentally crosses over the perimeter of the driveway, an alarm will sound at G4S. Or at least it is supposed to. Who knows if there will be anyone left in the office to hear the alarm ringing. G4S is supposed to be packing up and getting out of the country within a few months.
Let’s hope they do. It will send a clear message that the international community will no longer conduct business with a pariah state that continues on a steady, relentless path of ethnic and cultural erasure that is founded on institutional racism.
When I ask Dareen her opinion of all the glitches of the previous two days, most especially the fact of being left by the side of the road outside of Damon, she laughs and offers a simple phrase to sum it up: “It’s a farce.”
The activist and blogger Yoav Haifawi contributed to this article.