The Trials of Dareen Tatour: A year of detention and no end in sight

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It was exactly one year ago that Dareen Tatour’s ordeal began. In the pre-dawn hours of October 11, 2015, Israeli police and border guards stormed into Palestinian poet’s family home without a warrant or an explanation for the shocking and disturbing intrusion. They arrested, interrogated, and eventually charged Dareen Tatour with the crime of ‘incitement to violence.’

In the past year Dareen has been held in three separate prisons, confined to house arrest, and has faced an aggressive yet scandalously vacuous prosecution—all as part of a flagrant Israeli strategy to suppress Palestinian voices who dare criticize Israeli policies.

During an outbreak of predictably cyclical violence between Palestinians and Israelis last fall, Dareen Tatour—a citizen of the Israel—posted two status updates on Facebook and a poetry clip called Resist my people, Resist them, which protested the outrageous murders of three Palestinian children.

Honest observers who have examined the case agree that Dareen’s ‘offending’ posts fall well inside the boundaries of legitimate artistic expression, yet Dareen remains under house arrest in her home town of Reineh for the duration of her trial. She cannot leave the premises except for six hours a week. She wears an electronic ankle monitor (serviced by the notorious G4S), and a family member must guard her at all times. She is unable to use the internet, and is not free pursue educational, professional, or artistic activities. In short, she is languishing in a state of prolonged anxiety and uncertainty at great personal cost.

Thanks to a vigorous solidarity campaign, Dareen’s case has attracted national and international protest from prize-winning writers, journalists, international peace organizations, and most recently from PEN International, the premier international organization defending freedom of expression for writers worldwide. PEN International has called for Dareen’s immediate and unconditional release and held a tribute for her at their recent 82nd International Congress in Spain. Dareen was selected as one of their four “empty chairs,” chosen to represent all the writers who cannot be with them. In addition, PEN Centers around the world are working on translating Tatour’s poem, “A Poet Behind Bars,” several excerpts of which were read on International Translation Day. They already published this poem translated into more than ten languages.

Numerous poets, writers, and political figures have released statements of support. The award-winning Israeli poet and Tal Nitzan has recently written, “I am ashamed of being a citizen of a state that persecutes poets, I am ashamed of the privilege I have—at least for now—to publish any text I want, without fear of arrest.” Arab Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi joins of chorus of voices when she notes that only an international movement is capable of forcing the Israelis to stop this “dangerous, deeply fascist process.” (Scroll down below to read several recent statements of support).

The Trial Continues

Dareen Tatour at the Nazareth Court House on September 9, 2016. (Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills)
Dareen Tatour at the Nazareth Court House, September 2016. (Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills)

Despite the pressure from an international public that views the persecution of Dareen Tatour as an example of undemocratic political repression, the prosecution has yet to admit that it has insufficient grounds to proceed.

Dareen’s last hearing on September 6, 2016 provided yet another farcical exhibition of a willful negligence and glaring inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.

At this much-anticipated hearing, Dareen was supposed to take the stand for the first time and present her version of the events that led to her arrest. Tension was high in the lead up to the hearing, and a group of activists, including three Knesset members from The Joint Arab List, Ayman Odeh, Dr. Basel Ghattas and Haneen Zoabi, gathered to support Dareen.

Unfortunately, her own testimony was postponed after the court failed to find an adequate translator. Dareen announced that she would prefer to testify in her own language, Arabic, to be able to better express the nuances of her position in the clearest and most accurate way. The court summoned a translator, which is a routine part of the court’s procedures in Nazareth. But when the translator arrived, he recused himself, due to personal connections with the Tatour family. The judge looked for another translator, but to no avail.

The prosecutor, Alina Hardak, objected, arguing that Tatour has no problem speaking Hebrew, and tried to move the judge to compel the poet to testify, but her plea was rejected. The prosecutor, who never misses an opportunity to embitter the life of Tatour, emphasized that the delay is “the fault of the defense,” and therefore there should not be any relief in the conditions of Dareen’s detention over the next months.

Though Dareen was not able to present her case at this hearing, the prosecution managed to rest its case with the final testimony of the police officer Samer Khalil, the fourth police officer to interrogate Dareen Tatour since her arrest. The police officer’s direct testimony was required in order to submit the interrogation’s deposition to the judge.

In the cross-examination, Dareen’s defense attorney Abed Fahoum showed the actual videotape of the original interrogations, which clearly revealed that the written depositions submitted to the court were shoddy and partial at best, inaccurately representing the actual interrogation proceedings.

The first error noted was that the written deposition mentioned only one interrogator, whereas Officer Khalil admitted under oath that there were other people in the room. Khalil testified that he didn’t remember who they were, but looking at the videotape in court, Khalil identified them as officers Haim Sivoni and Ezri Zelinger, who were responsible for the case.

This was only the beginning of the many inconsistencies and omissions. The most obvious problem was that the written deposition didn’t include any of the taped scenes that the defense showed to the court. Each and every controversial segment had been conveniently omitted.

Fahoum requested that Khalil watch the tape and then translate what he heard and point out where it appears in the actual deposition. There were several sections of the videotape that the officer simply refused to translate claiming that “there is no direct translation for it from Arabic to Hebrew.”

Dareen Tatour at the Nazareth Court House on September 9, 2016. (Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills)
Dareen Tatour at the Nazareth Court House, September 2016. (Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills)

During the cross-examination, the translation work was divided between the evasive officer and the defense who volunteered to help Khalil when he was struggling. Khalil’s claim that it was untranslatable was proven to be false.

In many of the scenes shown at the September hearing, policemen were seen shouting aggressively at Dareen, trying to convince her that she was “in trouble” and that she had to “confess.” None of this was documented in the deposition which gave the false impression that Dareen was questioned in a neutral and non-coercive climate. The entire interrogation, in fact, was verbally abusive and intimidating with the male authorities shouting at the visibly shaken woman, trying to force her to “confess” and trying to put words in her mouth. Her faint voice on the tape revealed a state of vulnerability and intimidation.

The officer’s justifications for not transcribing the entire interrogation were many and varied. He opened by arguing that he couldn’t possibly write everything down, then went on to claim that the suspect didn’t understand his questions so he had to explain himself multiple times. His final appeal was to blame others, charging that it was someone else’s responsibility to transcribe the video.

Importantly, whenever Dareen replied to Khalil with an answer that he didn’t like, it was not transcribed into the deposition. The officer explained on the stand that “if she didn’t answer my question, I didn’t write it down.”

Despite the bullying and verbal assault at no point did Dareen confess to any criminal behavior. During the five interrogations Dareen admitted only to owning her Facebook pages, explaining that the ideas that she posted were a legal and legitimate protest against the crimes of the occupation and against settler terrorism directed against the Palestinian population.

The so-called “confessions” attributed to Tatour in the written depositions were full of misspellings, incoherent phrases, and confusing formulations that amounted to nothing until they arrived at one unequivocal exchange. The interrogator asked, “Do you feel you’ve violated Israeli law and incited people to violence against the state and the citizens?” Dareen’s answer was very clear: “No.”

After a few more of minutes testimony from Khalil that confirmed a consistent pattern of evasion of procedures and protocol, the prosecution rested its case. As usual, the supporters in the court were shocked and puzzled by the absence of any convincing evidence that this mild-mannered young poet had incited anyone to commit an act of violence or terrorism.

Currently, if the state succeeds to find an appropriate translator, the poet will take the stand on November 17, 2016. An additional hearings is set for November 24, but at this point Dareen and her family are worried and have little faith that justice will be served. The prolongation of the trial increases the pressure on Dareen to make a plea deal. In the meantime, the defense lawyers intends to file a new request to relieve Dareen of the house detention as soon as possible.

It is important to note that the indictment and prosecution of Dareen Tatour is situated within a larger context of unequal justice. She is just one of hundreds of Palestinians who have been arrested for political posts on social media. Meanwhile no Jewish citizens have been jailed for posting hateful and violent statements.

This antagonist political climate, the persistent threat of a possible guilty verdict, and the unseemly possibility that Dareen could find herself in prison again have taken a toll even on the generally cheerful and optimistic poet.

We managed to talk together very briefly on the phone the other day, and she said that she was suffering from a great deal of pain in her eyes and from debilitating headaches. It seems as though the extraordinary stress is having a detrimental effect on her health.

We chatted for a few moments about her family, her life under house arrest, the book she is reading. Then I asked her what is else is new.

“Wallah ishi,” she told me a little too emphatically. “Nothing whatsoever. There is nothing new at all. Everything is the same. Exactly the same.”

And so this is yet more crime of the occupation: the inflicting of deadly monotony on the soul of a poet, a soul that thrives and flourishes on physical, emotional, and spiritual liberty.

It has been a year since this monotonous and galling ordeal began—and unfortunately there is no end in sight.

Graphic for social media campaign in support of Dareen Tatour.
Graphic for social media campaign in support of Dareen Tatour.

Statements of Support on the Anniversary of Dareen Tatour’s Arrest

Addameer: Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

Incriminating Poets: The Case of Dareen Tatour

Member of Knesset, Haneen Zoabi:

“Dareen’s arrest should be seen in the context of all the other arrests and administrative detention cases: Palestinians are arrested not because of what they did, not because they trespassed the law, but because of what they might do: because they planned a demonstration and invited others through Facebook to attend, because they wrote a poem or a song. Because they dared to voice their opinion. Because they courageously criticized the Zionist state and challenged its colonialism.
It appears these arrests are part of a wider plan of criminalizing the political struggle of the Palestinian citizens, a new phase in which alternative opinions are efficiently throttled and politicians individually demonized, then persecuted, their parties slandered as can be seen in the current wave of criminalization of Balad, its activists and politicians.

This dangerous, deeply fascist process cannot be stopped from within Israel. Mainstream thinking has adopted and even internalized not only its terminology, but its ideology and mode of thinking.  The critical Palestinian struggle is being oppressed inside the country, and therefore international pressure is absolutely necessary.”

Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Abu Arisheh:

تعليق الشاعر الفلسطيني من مدينة يافا محمود ابو عريشة بمناسبة سنة على اعتقال الشاعرة دارين طاطور

Statement by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Abu Arisheh from Jaffa on the occasion of one year of detention of poet Dareen Tatour:

إن القمع الذي يتعرض له الأدباء الفلسطينيون قديم الأزل. هل تذكرون غسان كنفاني. لماذا اغتال الموساد هذا الشاعر والصحافي الفلسطيني الذي كان يمارس مهنته الشريفة مهجراً في لبنان؟ لقد مضت أربعة عقود على رحيله وكذلك على اغتيال الشاعر راشد حسين الذي أحرق حياً على يد الموساد في منزله في نيويورك  كما يقول أبناء عائلته. هذا الترصد للأدب والأدباء مخيف، وهو يميز الأنظمة القمعية والعصور المظلمة. كيف يقبل العالم “المتنور” بذلك؟ وكيف يتماشى مع حقوق الإنسان الذي يدعو العالم الغربي إلى احترامها وفي المقابل يدعم بكل القوة النظام الإسرائيلي القائم على التمييز والظلم؟

إن استمرار اعتقال دارين هو أولاً من مسؤولية هذه الدول ككل وليس فقط إسرائيل. مع ذلك فإنه يجدر بنا أن لا ننسى أحرار العالم شخوصاً من مختلف الدول الملتفين حول قضية دارين ومستمرين في دعمها، لهم كل التحية

“Palestinian writers have been subjected to oppression since long ago. Do you remember Ghassan Kanafani? Why did the Israeli Mossad assassinate this Palestinian poet and journalist who had been practicing his honorable profession in exile in Lebanon? Four decades have passed since his death, and since the assassination of poet Rashid Hussein, who was burned alive at the hands of the Mossad in his home in New York, according to his family. This persecution of literature and writers is a terrifying characteristic of repressive regimes and dark times. How does the “enlightened” world accept that? How can it be reconciled with human rights, which the Western world calls to respect, while at the same time fully supporting an Israeli regime based on discrimination and injustice?

These states, all of them together and not just Israel, are essentially responsible to the continued detention of Dareen.

However, we shouldn’t forget the freedom-loving people from different countries all over the world who have gathered around the cause of Dareen and who continue to support her. We salute them all.”

October 7, 2016

Hebrew Poet and Translator Tal Nitzan:

“The persecution of Dareen Tatour is a shameful procedure befitting totalitarian regimes, and there is no place for it in a democratic state. Nor is there place in a state that purports to uphold equality before the law for cruelty towards an Arab poet who is a citizen of Israel. This is especially galling regarding the way the authorities ignore far more violent racist social media posts by Jewish Israelis, day by day.

I am ashamed of being a citizen of a state that persecutes poets, I am ashamed of the privilege I have—at least for now—to publish any text I want, without fear of arrest. As long as Dareen is not free, the freedom we Jewish Israeli writers possess is only ostensible.”

Lawyer for the Defense, Abed Fahoum:

“The poet Dareen Tatour has already been subjected to detention under harsh conditions, and we must take notice that the treatment of this case has been discriminatory and unjust.

The very decision to indict Tatour for the poem and two Facebook statuses that are attributed to her has been completely taken out of context. The internet is full of much more severe pronouncements, mostly Israelis calling for hate crimes against Arabs in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Almost all of the cases of alleged incitement that are brought to court by the Israeli prosecution are against Arabs.

It should be stressed that Tatour’s poetry and Facebook statements, while protesting against the violence of the settlers and the occupation, are not calling for violence of any kind.

The criminalization of appeals for legitimate political protest undermines the foundations of democracy and free speech.

In Tatour’ s interrogations and in the court the police officers involved in this case have often mentioned the fact that Tatour read a poem at the commemoration of the Kafr Qassem massacre and in the Women’s Day in Nazareth. The prosecution justified the need for harsh restrictions against Tatour based on her role as a poet. All these facts raise the suspicion that this case is politically-motivated and is meant to silence voices that oppose governmental policy.”

Palestinian poet Sami Mhanna, the head of the General Union of Arab Palestinian Writers ‘48

When a State is Afraid of a Poem: Solidarity with poet Dareen Tatour

Arrest and imprisonment and house detention, exile and persecution of a poet, for a period that now reached a full year, and a criminal trial that is not yet over, all because of a poem…it is not a normal thing in any democratic country in the world.

Poet Dareen Tatour, 34, from the village of Reineh near Nazareth in the Galilee, was arrested on October 11, 2015. She is still, to this day, being prosecuted judicially. She spent the entire year under detention, most of it between prison and complete house detention away from her home. She is imprisoned and tried because of a poem, on allegations of incitement in social networks for a publication that can be read and interpreted in different ways…

These dangerous arbitrary measures by the security apparatus and the Israeli courts and those who stand behind them, supported by the mentality and attitude of the secretive security services, as the Shin Bet, take the entire state of Israel back to an era in which it targeted literary circles, an era in which the poets of the Palestinian resistance were subjected to imprisonment, house arrests, and liquidations. Israel targeted poets outside its borders, as in assassinating Palestinian writers, like the two poets Kamal Nasser and Kamal Adwan; these are writers who did not carry arms and who never participated in any military operation, writers who, along with their own people, were forcefully removed from their homeland, and who resisted Israel only with their pens.

Targeting and imprisoning a poet by Israel, a state that calls itself “the only democratic oasis in the Middle East,” not only denies Israel the moral high ground that it claims, but also reveals the fragility of its self-confidence. Furthermore, it shows that there Israel has no real intention to strengthen democratic values or values of justice and social equality among its citizens.

This runs in opposition to Israel’s need to deal wisely and with greater understanding, with justice and fairness, with the indigenous Palestinian Arab minority, from whom it had robbed land, sovereignty, history, and natural potential and means to live and develop like any other people on earth.

Israeli governments that obstruct the peace process and the two-state solution by consolidating the occupation and by doubling the settlements in the territories occupied since 67, these same governments that aim at cutting the West Bank into cantons, having already completed the separation of the West Bank  from Gaza Strip, and  having declare that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, these same governments persist in dealing with the Arab Palestinians who remained in their historical land, with ceaseless enmity. The case of Dareen Tatour is an expression of such enmity.

We should mention that we see and read every day, in Hebrew sites and social network pages, dozens of extreme inflammatory publications and comments made by Jewish citizens against Arabs, including calls for liquidation and murder. We do not hear about any arrests or prosecutions of the perpetrators of such calls, and these calls are understood nothing more than expressions of personal opinions. Therefore, we believe that the issue of the poet Dareen Tatour, as with all political prosecutions suffered by Arab citizens and by honorable political activists, even by Jewish activists, such prosecutions unmask the true face of the Israeli institution, undress its contradictory values and expose the real essence of the Apartheid State and its racial discrimination.

We demand freedom for Dareen Tatour, freedom for the political detainees and prisoners, freedom for the prisoners of war who are languishing in Israeli jails. We demand freedom to hold political position, freedom of affiliation, the right to speak freely, and freedom of expression. We will not be intimidated by repression and the practices of racist targeting. Despite the enemies of justice and peace, we will always work and struggle, by words and deeds, to bring about just peace and equality.

October 10, 2016

دولة تخاف من قصيدة  / تضامن مع الشاعرة دارين طاطور

اعتقال وسجن وحبس منزلي، وإبعاد وملاحقة شاعرة، لمدة تصل إلى سنة كاملة، وملف جنائي لم ينتهِ بعد، جرّاء قصيدة، أمرٌ ليس طبيعيًا في أي دولةٍ ديمقراطية في العالم.

الشاعرة دارين طاطور، 34 عامًا،  من قرية الرينة قضاء الناصرة في الجليل، والتي أُعتقلت في تاريخ 11.10.15 ولا تزال حتى اليوم، ملاحقةً قضائيًا، بعد أن مكثت طوال العام الكامل بين الاعتقال والسجن المنزلي بظروف إبعاد تام عن منزلها، وسجن فعلي،  وملاحقات قضائية، بسبب قصيدة، وادعاءات التحريض في موقع التواصل الاجتماعي في منشورٍ يحتمل أكثر من قراءة وتفسير.  هذه الاجراءات التعسفية الخطرة من قبل أجهزة الأمن والقضاء الاسرائيلي ومن يقف وراءها من عقلية وفكر وتوجه داخل الأجهزة الأمنية العميقة، كجهاز الشاباك، تعيد اسرائيل برمتها إلى سنوات الملاحقات التي استهدفت الكلمة والموقف تلك الفترة التي تعرض فيها شعراء المقاومة الفلسطينية إلى الملاحقات والسجون والاقامات الجبرية، والتصفيات، التي ذهبت إلى ما وراء الحدود، كاغتيال الأديب الفلسطيني الذي لم يحمل سلاحاً يومًا، ولم يشارك في أي عملية عسكرية، ولم يقاوم ظروفه وظروف شعبه كمهجر من أرضه ووطنه قسرًا، سوى بقلمه، واغتيال الشاعر كمال ناصر وكمال عدوان وغيرهم.

ملاحقة وسجن شاعرة من قبل دولةٍ  تطلق على نفسها (واحة الديمقراطية الوحيدة في الشرق الأوسط)، لا يُسقط اسرائيل من أعالي شعارها الذي تدعيه فحسب، بل يشير إلى هشاشة ثقة هذا الكيان بنفسه، وتدلّ على أنه لا يوجد توجه فعلي نحو ترسيخ القيم الديمقراطية والعدل والعدالة الاجتماعية بين مواطنيهما رغم أنه من المفترض أن تتعامل  بحكمة وتفهم أكبر، وعدلٍ وإنصاف، مع الأقلية العربية الفلسطينية الأصلانية، التي سلبت منها الأرض والسيادة والتاريخ والجزء الأكبر من المكان، والامكانات  والتمكن من العيش والنمو كأي شعب على وجه الأرض.

فحكومات اسرائيل التي تعرقل عميلة السلام، وحل الدولتين، عبر توطيد الاحتلال ومضاعفة المستوطنات في الأراضي المحتلة عام 67، والتي تسعى لتقطيع الضفة الغربية إلى كنتونات بعد أن فصلتها بشكل كامل عن غزة، وتعلن أن القدس هي عاصمة اسرائيل الأبدية،  لا تزال  تتعامل مع من بقي في أرضه التاريخية من عرب فلسطينيين، بعد عقود طويلة بعداوة تُترجم على أرض الواقع دومًا، وقضية دارين طاطور أحد أشكالها وتجسداتها.

وللتنويه، نحن نرى ونقرأ يوميًا في المواقع العبرية، وفي صفحات التواصل الاجتماعي، عشرات المنشورات والتعقيبات التحريضية المتطرفة ، ومنها دعوات للتصفية والقتل، من قبل مواطنين يهود، ولم نسمع عن اعتقالات أو ملاحقات، طالما بقيت في اطار رأي شخصي، ولذلك نرى أن قضية الشاعرة دارين طاطور اسوة بكل الملاحقات السياسية، التي يتعرض لها المواطنون العرب والناشطون السياسيون الشرفاء حتى من اليهود،  تُسقط القناع عن الوجه الحقيقي للمؤسسة الإسرائيلية وتعرّي قيمها المتناقضة، وتفضح الجوهر الفعلي لدولة الأبرتهايد والتمييز العنصري.

الحرية لدارين طاطور، وللمعتقلين والأسرى السياسيين، أسرى الحرية، الذين يقبعون في السجون الاسرائيلية، والحرية للموقف والانتماء والكلمة الحرة وحق التعبير، ولن ترهبنا ممارسات القمع والاستهداف العنصري، وسنسعى دومًا، بالموقف والكلمة والعمل والنضال، لإحلال السلام العادل والمساواة، رغم أنف أعداء العدل