I first met the Palestinian poet and photographer Dareen Tatour two years ago in July 2016. She was being held under house arrest in Tel Aviv, but had been given a pass to visit her family in Reineh for Eid.
By the time we met, she had already been arrested, interrogated, and put on trial for incitement—all for one video/poem and two Facebook posts. As a poet and writer, I was appalled that this gentle, small-town poet was being persecuted for the very thing that poets around the world do every day as a matter of vocation.
On that sunny Eid morning as we sat talking over cookies and coffee, I never imagined that I would still be writing and talking about her case two years later.
Yet here we are.
The trial—an appalling spectacle of racism and distortion—has dragged on and on, and is still not over. On May 3, Dareen was found guilty of incitement in an Israeli Apartheid court, but three months later, she has not received her sentence.
Unless the hearing is postponed yet again, Dareen will be sentenced on July 31. It is likely that she will be sent back to prison.
On the eve of her sentencing, I wanted to talk with her about her trial, her writing, her struggles, and her aspirations. She agreed without hesitation. Unfortunately, under the terms of her house arrest Dareen is still not permitted access to the internet, which makes it tricky to conduct a bilingual, long-distance interview.
As such, this conversation took place over the course of a week and a half, using a variety of platforms. After many exchanges, I edited and organized the interview for length and coherence. Many thanks to the tireless Yoav Haifawi for his wonderful work in collecting and translating the initial round of questions and answers, and to Einat Weizman and Manwa Mar’ee for their help in arranging some of the follow up questions. I was finally able to talk to Dareen directly for the last parts.
KJ: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Dareen.
DT: And thank you for everything too, Kim.
KJ: I can’t believe that after all this time, you are still waiting for your sentence. What is the most difficult part of all of this waiting?
DT: Everything about waiting is harsh, but the worst part is the longing that I feel for my friends. I miss them. I miss those that I love and can’t see because of the restrictions. I often suffer the pain of longing and die with it a thousand times a minute. I yearn to go outside and shoot photographs freely and to visit the places I love.
KJ: Is the waiting the worst part of living in confinement under house arrest?
DT: Yes. Time passes certainly, but very slowly. An hour of confinement can feel like a day. The protracted delays in the trial have been a form of torture, increasing my detention time from one to three months each time.
KJ: How has this ordeal affected your politics, your feelings, and your life as an artist?
DT: This experience has reshaped the feelings in my heart and made me write poems in a new way. The waiting opened horizons of political and artistic life that I did not live or know before. It integrated a new culture into my prior culture and added new sparks and meanings. Politics and art became even more important than before. I also learned to draw while in detention. I am now considering studying visual arts after my trial, in addition to my work in journalism, poetry, and photography.
On the political level, the detention gave me a different identity. I’ve become even more committed to liberating my people and my homeland from injustice and occupation. The goal is to arrive at a state that includes everyone, based on the principles of justice and equality, without any concessions of our rights as Palestinian people living in the homeland in which we were born.
KJ: Just yesterday [July 19], the Israeli Knesset passed the Jewish Nation-State law. Do you have any comment?
DT: Of course. It is a racist law of the first order that gives the right to live only to Jews.
KJ: With this kind of political emergency always happening, do you feel any pressure to play a specific role as a writer?
DT: It is not so much a pressure as it is a responsibility. As a poet and an activist I have a responsibility and I have to be up to it. You could say that I entered prison as one kind of human being and went out of it completely different. I became stronger, more poetic. I write more fluently. The culture I gained from the books I read and the people I met during this period were guaranteed to transform me completely.
KJ: Can you give some examples of influential people or books?
DT: My work with the director Einat Weizman and her colleagues, the writer and journalist Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, the political activist Yoav Haifawi, the poet Alma Katz, and the writer and poet Jennifer Clement—and her book New and Selected Poems. Each one has added an invaluable socio-political dimension to my life.
KJ: Women artists, activists, and writers have been important for you.
DT: Yes, absolutely, and the women prisoners. My mind, my thoughts, and my feelings are always with the women prisoners. I’ve become focused on the restoration of the rights of these women and telling people about their pain.
KJ: Are there specific cases you want to focus on, whether in Palestine or elsewhere?
DT: Every prisoner that I met and knew has a story worth telling. Each carries an important human message. There are 45 Palestinian prisoners whom I have personally known and who have left me with unforgettable feelings and memories. I want to help make their voices heard.
After detention, I plan to dedicate myself to the women’s movement. I plan to establish a Palestinian women’s association that can connect with women’s rights groups around the world. In short, these last three years have made me love women more than ever and I hope to change with them.
KJ: Has your exposure to the local and international public prevented you from writing freely as a woman on topics other than national liberation?
DT: On the contrary, my public exposure during this period gave me a motivation to express myself even more freely. Frankly, the increased visibility liberated me and I started writing about topics I had not written before, especially on women’s issues. There is no one and no law that will be able to prevent me from writing about all aspects of humanity. It was this exposure that motivated me to convey the pain of women as well as the Palestinian pain, beyond the borders.
KJ: What have you been writing about these days?
DT: Everything I feel, I turn it into a poem. I write about the homeland because the homeland lives in me. I write about love when I live a love story of any sort. I write about rape because I have also experienced this pain in a period of my life.
KJ: Do you want to talk about the subject of rape with me now?
DT: Yes, I want to talk about it now, more than ever.
KJ: On a personal level or political level or both?
DT: Both, because they are linked. The personal rape and political rape that I experienced were both committed by masculine authority. I am detained only because I dared to say no to occupation and no to rape. Rape is like occupation and vice versa, and because I’m a woman who loudly declared the identity of both of my rapists and confronted them through my poems, they tried to imprison my voice. They thought they could scare me, but my voice is louder.
KJ: Do you want to add anything to this statement?
DT: Yes, let me say this: I was sexually assaulted and raped. The perpetrator contributed to my arrest, and the Israeli authorities completed the task, but both failed to silence my poetry. At this point, I do not want to give more details. However, very soon everyone will have the chance to read the full story in my coming novel, entitled My Dangerous Poem.
KJ: Has poetry helped you with this trauma?
DT: My role as a poet and activist in my community is what helps me to extricate me from all the pressures I suffer from.
KJ: And how have these experiences changed your role in the family and society?
DT: I really like to be completely independent of everything that binds me in the family, so I can honestly say that this trial didn’t change my role in the family too much. The only thing that might have changed is that despite the pressures exerted on me by those around me, I remained firm in my decision that I will not back down from writing my views and my poetry— no matter the outcome.
My role in society, however, changed profoundly. The trial gave me more recognition as a poet who defied the Israeli regime as well as social conventions and the masculine order with her words. I was often pleased that my position and my trial influenced women, especially in their status as poets, creators, and artists. Many artists around the world took notice of my case and used my trial as inspiration for their own artistic expression.
KJ: What are the greatest struggles right now for Palestinians living as citizens inside the green line?
DT: The prevalence and increase of racism by the Israeli authorities as well as the increase in violence and killing here are the most severe conflicts we face in the Palestinian interior. I am deeply saddened by the situation we have reached. The violence that has spread in our region is a source of deep stress and makes me think of ways to reduce this phenomenon. Killings in general, and the killing of women, especially, started to preoccupy my thoughts.
KJ: When you think you might be going to jail again, what images come to mind?
DT: Everything in prison is frightening and disturbing. I’m disgusted and don’t want to go back. But I must be prepared for everything I saw there in the ninety-seven days at the beginning of my detention. I say with sorrow that, in spite of the anxiety, I’ve already created a program for myself with some targets and goals. I would like to change the conditions of women prisoners, to create a new prison library, to get out of prison with a new poetry book that tells about the time I will spend there, and write a screenplay about the suffering of women prisoners in Israeli prisons.
What comes mostly to my mind are the sound of the chains, the sound of the iron doors slamming and the sound of their locks. I see myself looking for the sight of the sky, but, again, can only see a small patch through a small square-shaped hole in the courtyard.
KJ: Is there any chance that you will NOT go back to prison?
DT: All possibilities are open and the decision is in the hands of the judge and the Israeli authorities. But there is very little chance that I will not go back to prison.
KJ: You predicted that you would be convicted, and you were. And the prosecutor Alina Hardak has demanded a lengthy jail sentence, so I fear that you’ll be right again. What emotions do you feel most strongly?
DT: I try to be strong and patient, but I often feel torn to pieces—distressed and beaten down. Sometimes I cry alone or curse my bad luck, especially as I lost many friends to whom my love was dedicated. But I don’t let this sadness lead me to despair. I also admit that, with all this pain, I have lived a beautiful love story during this period. It might be a bit strange, but love in the time of war is a special love; it induces the person suffering from internal wars to overcome all obstacles. I have lived through a war in all respects, but with love I always win.
KJ: If you were sitting in a room with the state prosecutor Alina Hardak and judge Adi Bambiliya-Einstein what would you say to them right now?’
DT: I would say: you have caused me a grave injustice, but despite all that I have suffered at your hands, I don’t hate you because you are women, and one of my principles is not standing against women. But I will never, ever be like you. I am angry, but don’t feel hatred towards you, not like the hatred I saw, especially in the eyes of the state’s attorney.
KJ: Have you ever had a chance to address them personally in this way?
DT: I wrote each of them a poem about their position against me. I hope one day to give the poems to them.
KJ: What is the title?
DT: Hallucination of a poet convicted of terrorism
KJ: So I wonder, is it your hallucination or is it the hallucination of a twisted, nightmarish situation?
DT: It’s mine. But there is no doubt that my hallucination was caused by the Israeli regime, represented first and foremost by the judge and the prosecutor.