I have marked Wednesday, August 8, 2018, as one of the darkest days of my life. Not just for me as an artist and as an Israeli citizen, but also for the Palestinians, a shameful day in which the hallmarks of equality and freedom of speech have been crushed.
After spending Tuesday night in Nazareth, I woke up early to drive over to Dareen Tatour’s house in the neighboring village of Reineh. Dareen is a Palestinian poet persecuted by the Israeli apartheid regime simply for writing a poem. I have been in touch with her since her story exploded across media outlets, and a dear friendship has developed between us. Her lengthy trial ended recently with a sentencing that sent her off to spend months behind bars, after nearly three years under house arrest.
No doubt, her trial garnered attention regarding the capacity of Israel’s security agencies to go through social media with a fine-toothed comb, to spot suspects. And for a Zionist regime that is based on Jewish, white supremacy, these suspects are always Palestinian. As for me, I just find it unbelievably unjust that a poem written in Arabic could even be scrutinized in Hebrew, let alone in a courtroom in Israel. Led by the militant Israeli prosecution, Dareen’s text was translated by a veteran policeman that speaks Arabic. Could he have had the heart to capture the context correctly? Could he have remained true to the Arabic poetic tradition in which the poem was written? Things have been known to get lost in translation, especially within the walls of a Zionist courtroom, driven by a relentless aspiration to eliminate the Arabic culture.
I arrived at her place, only to find Dareen placid and benign, smiling. Despite the erratic situation and the commotion all around her, she was imperturbable. I sat opposite her, and tried to size her up. There was a glow about her, but her eyes were sad.
We left her house in a caravan of cars, one after the other, and on the way I played Antony and the Johnsons – the same music we heard together, Dareen and me, when we went shopping for things she would need in jail just a couple of days earlier, after her long saga in court ended with the prison sentence. She is paying the price for the oppressive policy of the apartheid regime, and I was there to see it happen: a classic case of demonization and dehumanization committed by the Israeli apartheid regime against the indigenous Palestinian population of this land.
Demonization and dehumanization are two of the key preconditions for genocide. Unfortunately for Dareen, her story demonstrates all too well Raphael Lemkin’s definition of ethnocide, which is a form of genocide that aims at eradicating the culture and language of an indigenous people. Mao Zedong did just that in Tibet in the 1950s. This in fact, raises the issue of Israel as an entity that is currently committing a slow genocide against the native people of the land. It should be accountable for this. The dire situation in Gaza, where the disenfranchised Palestinians have reached their nadir, living in subhuman conditions under a belligerent siege violently maintained by a country that massacres them, reflects the apartheidistic, genocidal mores of Israel.
She stood straight, then hugged us all, and we waved our goodbyes as the jail gates slammed shut behind her. I just stood there for a few more fleeting moments, hoping she would resurface. I desperately looked to see a sliver of white, which is the color she wore that day and the hijab she put on as she gave her freedom away. I wanted some sign of her from the inside. Then I just went back to my car, and drove home. This time – alone.
Dareen’s story is the epitome that portrays the undemocratic nature of Zionist Israel, a country that is unquestionably racist for anyone who is non-Jew or non-white. Dareen, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, is an artist, a poet fighting for her people in a non-violent way. She has dreamed of being a poet all her life, and now the apartheid regime has also tried to destroy this personal dream of hers too, in its brutal court ruling that claims she is a terrorist in disguise, not a real poet. But she is a poet, and a resisting artist, as she puts it best, “They sent me to jail for writing a poem, but poetry has become my key to freedom, and I will hang on to that key until the end.”
On the way back home, alone in my car, tears wouldn’t stop running down my cheeks. I felt I was in a reality that could only be invented by Kafka and Orwell. A Kafkaesque and Orwellian reality. As if I was inside one of their novels, and they look at us from above, laughing and saying, “We told you so.”
I got home, and it took me a long while till I could write these lines. Being silent is not an option. Especially so for artists, whose work is grounded in political expression. Artists everywhere are constantly called to refrain from mixing art with politics. But everything is political. The fact that I am a woman with red and blue hair living in a patriarchal world, is political. The fact that Dareen is a Palestinian woman living under an apartheid regime, is political. As an artist, I wrote a whole album about heartbreak, expressing how women feel in relationships with violent men. This too is political, because gender and feminist issues are the pinnacle of any political circumstance. Our very existence is political, everyone’s, from our gender, to our age and skin color, our socio-economic status, sexual orientation, cultural background, language – everything. When the general public calls to separate politics from art, it doesn’t only misunderstand the sole purpose of art, but is in fact justifying those who turn a blind eye on the social and political issues that touch us all. My upcoming album, for example is very political – I composed music to lyrics by Dareen. I do doubt that I will ever be called in for interrogation, being the privileged, white, Israeli Jew that I am.
So, is this it? Dareen is in jail, and we can all return to our routine, mundane, everyday life? Is this possible? Can it even be possible? As an Israeli, I can only bow my head in shame and apologize to Dareen and to all Palestinians, asking for their forgiveness.
Let us all resist, together.