After three years of prison, detention and political prosecution to which I have been subjected, here I am sitting in my room, freely caressing my cats, touching life again and discovering everything about it all over again as if I am living in a beautiful dream after a long nightmare.
October 11th is no longer a normal date to me that crosses by just like any date in the year; it is the anniversary of the beginning of the dangerous poetry tale and the detained poet in Israel, that began in 2015 and went on for three consecutive years during which I suffered of all means of detention, interrogation, prison, house arrest, exile and very strict circumstances.
Each period I went through had a different sort of suffering, each was different than the other. In each period I lived and lived through (experienced) different and many stories, in regard to Israeli policies, the society I belong to and personally; all left an impact inside me, that will remain there forever.
However, during my last period in prison, I held a lot of contrasting, difficult feelings in my heart, especially that I entered jail on my own will and headed to the gate of prison with my friends and family, and what a difficult feeling that is for someone whose crime is only writing a poem telling her feelings and sentiments towards the reality her people are living. I will not talk about detention circumstances I went through during all of this period, here, nor the restrictions or the phases, I will talk about the main chapters that affected me during my detention, and that were my motivation to continue the struggle until the moment I was released on September 20, 2018, and about my last period at the Damon prison.
Dressed in white as pure as the letters of poetry, on August 8, 2018 and at ten o’clock in the morning, I entered prison for another time after I was convicted by the Israeli court of the charges pressed against me; incitement to violence, terrorism and supporting a terrorist group, I was sentenced to five months of actual prison time. I said my goodbyes to my friends and family, I waved at them with my hand and took a last look at the wide blue sky, until the officer came along with the (female) jailor and opened the big blue gate, I walked into the prison building and the gate was shut, for me to start spending the sentence imposed upon me.
The jailor took me with her to a very small room, no window, no airways, no light, and shut the iron door on me, I waited by the door for about an hour until the jailor was back again and began official procedure to receive a poet prisoner whose entire indictment was words. She asked me to take off all of my clothes to begin with what the Israeli prisons’ services call a strip search, this search was my most difficult experience, it pained me more than any moment I lived in my life as I was being hurt by another woman like me without any consideration to feelings and privacy, after she was done with this mission she took me with her to the registration office where they gave me a prisoner’s number, she put cuffs on my legs and my hands! I was shocked and asked her why she was cuffing me, she said: you are a security prisoner, you threat the country’s security and these are the orders. She then began to search my bag where I had put all my belongings, it was sent back to my family and she prevented me from keeping my clothes with me under the excuse that the detention center’s law does not allow this sort of objects.
After spending a night at the Jalama (Kishon) detention center, I was transferred to the Damon prison in Daliyat al-Karmel town near Haifa, which was used at the time of the British mandate as a storehouse for tobacco, has become a prison during Israel’s time, that fits for some 500 prisoners. In 2002, human rights organizations and a committee of lawyers in Israel approved that the place was unsuitable for even sheltering animals, and that it was not suitable for humans. However, up until today it is still being using as a prison for Palestinian detainees and prisoners who were captured for working in Israel without permits, in addition to section 61 that is prepared for Palestinian political prisoner.
I was held at that section along with 22 female prisoners, the prison could hold a total of 26 prisoners in two rooms only; room 7 that only holds for 8 prisoners and room 8 that holds the rest, which means that room 7 could hold 18 prisoners.
Once I entered the section I looked up from the yard to the sky, for it to turn into a square, showing from a small net-like opening, a yard closed all around, two rooms that narrow the soul and spirit and are too crowded for their small space.
With time, I began to get familiar with the female prisoners and listen to their stories and tales, some stories did not live up to my thoughts and principal in life, however, under the reality of prison I had to live with all cultural, social and economic classes. In prison, there is no space for minimum privacy, something that was very difficult for me to deal with, as well. I also lived through a lot of pain with the prisoners.
I lived through many cruel scenes but the cruelest was the scene of the daughter of one of the female prisoners knocking on the glass window with both of her hands during visit time, crying, yelling, she only wanted to touch her mother but jailors and the prisons’ services did not give her a chance to do so, not for one minute, the mother’s only choice was to send her daughter kisses, print them on the glass for her to start crying, too. Visits in Israeli political prisons happen only from behind a sound-and-touch-proof glass. In addition to that, many female prisoners have never had the right to visits since their detention, which is a harsh reality as well. These stories through which I have lived in prison have moved my feelings and gave me the inspiration to write more despite the pain, so I write everything I live and see until every event turns into a poem.
I entered prison for one poem but I was released with 101 poems, in addition to a novel that I wrote in prison with all the details of detention that I lived and all its phases. Something that was a different challenge to me, with my self first and with the Israeli authorities second; it did not stop at writing only with me, I also learned drawing in detention, I now express myself by drawing, too. I also turned my room into a photography workshop as I filmed a project on house arrest and prison using photography. This is how I turned my detention period into additional creative energies that confirm that nothing can prevent a poet from expressing her feelings even if her body was imprisoned, the mind is always free.
What was most ironic by the Israeli authorities in my case is that they prosecuted and jailed me for all of this time and claimed that the poem I wrote and posted was inciting and dangerous on the security of the state, yet, they kept it on Facebook and YouTube to be read and listened to by everybody. What could be funnier than detaining a poet, prosecuting and jailing her while her poem is still free, not removed, for example, since it is inciting violence and terrorism and supporting it according to their claims at courts!
The poem stayed and began to cross all limits, for my and my case’s circle of support to expand more and more with time, it was even translated to several languages. My case turned into an inspiration for art and artists in different fields, whether in singing, theatre, films, photography, poetry, drawing or music. The most significant of these works are: translating one of the poems I wrote in prison to more than 15 languages supported by the PEN International association, under the name “Poem on Trial” that adopts composing and singing the accused poem in several languages upon call by a group of artists and activists in my case, such as Meira Asher and Dganit Elyakim, and a play titled: I, Dareen Tatour, prepared by my friend Einat Weitzman, which we cooperated in writing, was directed by Nitzan Cohen and will be played at the end of this month at the Tmuna theatre in Tel Aviv. Something that has made (Israeli) Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev threaten the theatre and pledge to stop financial support to it by the ministry if the play was displayed, the legal counselor also summoned those who prepared this work for an interrogation session claiming that this work is against the law, supports and incites on violence, without her seeing or knowing what the theme of the play was or what will be displayed, my name was enough reason for her to work against it, attempt to prevent its display and threaten all who worked on it.
With everything that I have went through during the past three years of the Israeli authorities’ racism through my long battle for freedom of expression, it (the battle) still continues and has not stopped despite being released of prison, that is through being held for an additional three years in prison with conditional suspension of not repeating the same crime, and what was my crime in this trial other than writing a poem! However, the incitement campaign against me and against any work of art related to Palestinian art has become threatening of (the works) being banned and censored by the Israeli authorities, especially by the (Israeli) Minister of Culture and Sport who carries out continuous inciting campaigns against these works of art holding a Palestinian identity or telling the story of the Palestinian people and their suffering of the Israeli occupation for 70 years. As I, along with my defense team in the case at Gabi Lasky’s office and all supporters of my case, have requested an appeal for this trial, a session was scheduled to discuss and decide on the appeal on November 6, 2018. I will continue to fight for my right of expression using poetry freely until my last breath, because this cause is no longer Dareen Tatour’s cause only, but the cause of every poet, artist and human being who supported me, loyally stood by me and did not leave me lonely for all of this long period of time.
A truth must be said at the end, that the detention I went through is a definitive proof that I was only detained, prosecuted and jailed for being Palestinian and for being named Arab in my identity card. That Israel is not close to democracy, that it only issues racist sentences and gives democracy only to those with a Jewish nationality in their identity cards.
This article was translated from Arabic to English by Nina Abu Farha.