When I first heard of Dareen Tatour’s story, I had this terrible feeling deep inside. I am a musician myself, I know what it is like to express oneself through art. I imagined myself in her place, being arrested and persecuted for my art. Dareen is a Palestinian poet placed under house arrest since 2015, indicted for incitement to violence against the Israeli regime through a poem she posted on Facebook. Then it dawned on me that this could not actually happen to me, since I am a Jewish citizen of Israel, not a Palestinian. Israel has this tendency to oppress minority groups, and non-Jews specifically, through its homicidal apartheid regime. I reached out to Dareen, and we immediately connected. I met a beautiful young woman, so intelligent, so loving. We became friends immediately.
This April, after an extended legal saga of over two-and-a-half years, I joined Dareen at her final court hearing in Nazareth. Driving for hours on my way there, I had an ominous premonition. Her story is nothing but Kafkaesque, and her condemnation will most probably give rise to a wave of schadenfreude on the part of Israelis, quick to rejoice at the misfortune (and injustice) of weaker populations. When I walked into the courtroom, the judge was whispering and reciting her verdict very fast: “Dareen is convicted of incitement and support of terrorism.” She said it in such a low voice, she was asked to repeat her words louder a couple of times. Her stance was that after Dareen published her poem, there were many terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews. Yet, was the judge not deliberately ignoring the numerous attacks made towards Palestinians at that same time exactly? The verdict had a strong air of discrimination, it is unjust, and it is down- right detrimental to the freedom of speech and expression. This verdict not only silences art, it criminalizes it.
Dareen’s case attests to the blind-eye Israeli society is turning towards the Palestinian plight. For Israeli society, there is no acceptable means for Palestinian resistance that can be considered legitimate. Violence is of course illegal, boycott too is unacceptable as a form of resistance, and now, as Dareen’s case has shown the world, simple artistic expression such as writing a poem (which in itself is a non-violent way to resist oppression) can also be construed as a means of supporting terrorism. By taking away the freedom of words from Palestinians, and forbidding critical artistic expression, the Israeli regime has put Palestinians at a “dead end.” What they absorb from the Israeli belligerent apartheid regime will continue, including the occupation and daily acts of oppression, without the Palestinians having any option of uttering a single word or resisting in any way possible, violent or nonviolent, political or artistic.
Israel’s regime is apartheidistic, separating (by law) two populations in the same country. Dareen’s case is an excellent example of the discrimination between Israel’s Jewish population and its non-Jewish Arab population. Although she holds an Israeli passport, her identity is that of the indigenous people of the land, the Palestinians. But the Israeli media tags her as Arab-Israeli, disregarding her personal choice over that of the civil legal definition. It is crucial to understand that Israel’s belligerent apartheid regime is not limited to the occupied Palestinian territory. It is thriving deep within the State of Israel itself, and not only towards Palestinians, but systematic discrimination is also applied on other ethnic groups outside the white Jewish elite, such as Ethiopian Jewry, and desperate African asylum seekers tagged as infiltrators to be expelled under draconian laws. Dareen’s story cannot be discussed without delving into the very source of the problem, and that is Zionism.
Zionism originated and is still driven by the ideal of a white Jewish supremacy, upheld by a very militant, violent, masculine regime that is foremost colonialist. While it has flexed somewhat to also embrace Arab Jews (Mizrahi, or descendants of Jews from Arab countries), Zionism remains grounded on the foundations of a white supremacy (Ashkenazi, or descendants of European Jewry) who continue to shape mainstream Israeli society and culture… As for the occupation of Palestine, it began in 1881 with the first Zionist immigration to Palestine, which was not an immigration of Jews who ran away from massacres, but an immigration with a clear purpose – to Judaize Palestine, in a settler- colonialist process that aims to change the indigenous identity, culture, and population of the land with that of the colonialist’s. Dareen’s story is just an offshoot of the way Zionism comes about and realizes itself here in Israel. A quick trip down literary lane will show that canonical Hebrew Israeli poets have written much worse verses against Arabs.
In my search for an answer to this madness, for an act I could do to support my friend Dareen and express my profound opposition to what had transpired, I decided to launch a mini-campaign on Facebook showing how Zionism works. I want to expose its apartheid nature by sharing with the world the wretched comments written by Israeli Jews (in Hebrew) against Palestinians. Through this campaign, I will reveal that, unlike Dareen, Israelis who explicitly call for the slaughter and murder of Arabs and Palestinians are never arrested, let alone tried. Who is the real victim here? And was Dareen’s poem not written by the hand of one that has been victimized?
My campaign shows that Israelis openly call for “Death to Arabs,” even adding this malicious racist phrase to their Facebook profile name. These Israeli Jews will not be placed under house arrest for three years, or convicted of incitement.
Or this person, Yossi Hemed, who wrote “A morning with lots of energy to slaughter Arabs!!!!” This Israeli Jew will not be placed under house arrest for three years, or convicted of incitement.
Or this ex-IDF soldier, Eden Levi, who posted the following on Facebook in 2015, where on her hand and on a note it says: “It is not racism to hate Arabs, it is values!” This Israeli Jew will not be placed under house arrest for three years, or convicted of incitement.
Moreover, if we look closely at how things evolve, and try to validate the connection between social media and terrorist acts as the Judge in Dareen’s case had done, we can see that 24 hours before the 2014 murder in Jerusalem of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked posted a very inciting post on her Facebook page, encouraging people to perpetrate violence and terror against others (as is also apparent by the comments made by Jewish Israelis to her post).
Jewish MK Bezalel Smotrich incited against Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi this year. This Israeli Jew will not be placed under house arrest for three years, or convicted of incitement.
These Israeli Jews also incited against Palestinians. They will not be placed under house arrest for three years, or convicted of incitement.
Nor will these Israeli Jews be placed under house arrest for three years, or convicted of incitement.
Another important thing to note, on which Dareen’s story can also shed light, is the use of the word Arab in conjunction with the word Jew. This is both wrong and misleading, as these two words are not similar forms of identity to be compared. Judaism is a religion, while Arab is an ethnical identity. There are Arab Jews, as well as Arab Christians. In fact, I am half Arabic myself. One of my parents is originally from Iraq. Yet, Zionism cynically uses these two unrelated terms in close connection so often, it has blurred our common sense while propelling forward a general (however misled) notion of a legitimate Jewish identity that infringes on that of the Arab’s, just to justify its imperialistic and supremacist ideology. And the media collaborates, blurring this distinction in its hidden support of the Zionist ideology, to the point now that a religious identity seems to be the same as an ethnic one. This grounds the basic idea that drives Zionism, which calls Jews to create and lead a state that is both Jewish and democratic at the same time. But Israel cannot be democratic by definition, not as long as it is Zionist, or Jewish, because no religious country can be democratic. Israel is not a democratic country and never has been.
I believe Dareen’s story should be a lesson for us all – Can we imagine ourselves being jailed for speaking our mind? Can we imagine ourselves being detained for art? What a dangerous, foul place we live in, if people, especially marginalized populations, are oppressed for resisting with words. Dareen described her poetry as being her key to freedom, living under an apartheid regime that trials two populations differently, with roads meant for Jews only. Dareen’s story speaks volumes about giving a voice to those who need it most, and it will be a milestone towards ending apartheid and injustice in Israel/Palestine.