A conversation with Dareen Tatour

Jonathan Ofir in conversation with Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour.


BY JONATHAN OFIR


Last week, an Israeli court convicted Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour for “incitement to violence” and “support of terrorist organizations”, based on a couple of Facebook posts and a poem called “Resist Them”, posted in 2015.

Her sentence will be announced on the 31st of May and she could face up to eight years in Israeli prisons.

By this time, since her arrest on the 11th of October 2015, Dareen has spent 2.5 years in various arrests: First 97 days of arrest in three different Israeli prisons, then over two years in house arrest in an apartment in a Tel Aviv suburb, to keep her away from her family and friends in her native town of Reineh, near Nazareth in northern Israel. She has been denied access to internet, yet is permitted an old-style mobile phone.

On Monday, through contact with a common friend and human rights activist Danielle Alma Ravitzki who visited Dareen, I managed to speak with Dareen on the phone for about an hour, first to hear how she was doing, and second, to get a feeling from her about the trial and how she feels about it all – from her perspective.

Some would say that this is one-sided. And yet the whole Israeli reality is so lopsided against Palestinians, that hearing the voice of a Palestinian is merely balancing of this injustice. Danielle has a campaign running on social media in support of Dareen, where she re-posts many horrible and explicit messages of actual genocidal incitement by Israeli Jews, which of course lead to nothing. Yoav Haifawi, summating the final stages of the trial a few months ago, noted this bias:

“It is worth noting that the excessive sensitivity to freedom of expression in Israel’s legal system is applied mainly to the freedom of expression of settlers and other anti-Arab extremists. Therefore, in cases of this type, the defense often quotes cases of right-wing activists who were acquitted despite serious violent statements. The judges, for some reason, have no difficulty telling the difference; when the accused is Arab, they use entirely different criteria.”

So why not listen to those who are systematically and institutionally being silenced? Why not listen to what Dareen has to say? Thus, I am providing the essentials of our conversation, with critical comments for reference.

“I’m the next martyr”

It started with me texting with Danielle on Messenger and her quoting Dareen – I thought Dareen couldn’t use a phone at all. But then it turned out that Dareen can talk on her phone – she’s just not allowed to use a smartphone or access internet in any way. I was first a bit wary of calling – Dareen says she knows the Israeli security is tapping her phone, and I wondered whether it would give her trouble. Then I thought that it would possibly even give me problems in Ben Gurion airport if I called. But Dareen said cheerfully that they won’t give me trouble because I’m Jewish and we all laughed. I felt like an idiot. Sometimes the privileged have to get over their petty worries, which are nothing compared to the reality Palestinians face. So I called. And we spoke Hebrew. Once again, a privilege I felt somewhat uncomfortable with, as my Arabic is way too rusty.

I’m telling Dareen that I feel it’s like 1960’s DDR. She laughs. She says they want to bring her back to the 1930’s with that phone and all…

I ask her to go through how all this started, with a Facebook post which said “I’m the next martyr”.

“Yes, we were posting these posts, we were many and there were hundreds of them. Every time they took them down we put them up again. First it was with the background of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive by settlers”, she says.

The 16-year-old Palestinian child Mohammed was burned alive by Israeli Jews for “nationalist reasons” on the 2nd of July 2014. This happened, notably, a day after current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked posted her genocidal Facebook post calling for mass murder of Palestinians: “They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there”, Shaked wrote.

“Then they were posted in relation to Mohammed Hamdan in Kafr Kanna”, Dareen tells me.

Mohammed Hamdan of the northern Palestinian Israeli town, was shot on the 7th of November 2014 in cold blood by Israeli police, as can be seen in the video here, and this was decried by the mayor as “state terror”.

“Then it was posted with Ali Dawabshe”, Dareen tells me.

18-month-old Ali Dawabshe was burned alive by Jewish settlers in his home in the West Bank town of Duma. In the weeks that followed, the toddler’s parents—Sa’ad Dawabshe, 32, and Riham Dawabshe, 27—died from injuries sustained during the firebombing. The family was survived by four-year-old Ahmad Dawabshe, who recovered from severe burns.

So what Dareen is telling me, is that this campaign with the text “I am the next martyr” was applied serially, referring to victims of Israeli Jewish terror of various forms.

“Then I posted it with Israa Abed who was shot in Afula”, Dareen tells me.

Israa Abed was shot six times by Israeli forces on October 9th 2015, at the Afula central bus station, and miraculously survived it. It was first claimed that she was a terrorist, but it later transpired that actually, she was probably trying to commit suicide. Haaretz reports:

“It emerged that after breaking up from her partner she decided to pretend to be a terrorist, go to a crowded place and induce security forces to shoot her. Consequently, after she arrived at the bus station she waved a knife, and did not hear the calls of the police officers nearby, who shot her in the lower body and moderately injured her. The main indication leading investigators to their conclusion that Abed did not intend to hurt anyone other than herself was the video documenting the incident, in which she is seen standing next to a young ultra-Orthodox man without trying to hurt him.”

In any case, Abed was shot while posing no immediate danger to anyone nearby.

“Resist Them”

So this is where the authorities’ attention was drawn to Dareen – she posted another “I am the next martyr” text with the background of Israa Abed shot and incapacitated on the ground.

The prosecution would have the story begin here, and would have it suggest that Dareen’s intention with this text was to incite to stabbing attacks. The prosecution would not admit any evidence that showed that this campaign, of “I am the next martyr”, had existed beforehand.

And so this was to be the first claim, that Dareen was inciting to towards stabbing in the sense of an imitation of Israa Abed. But Dareen did not think of Israa Abed as a terrorist, but as a victim. This is the other sense of the Arabic word “Shaheed”, meaning “martyr” – it’s not necessarily a matter of active resistance – it can be in the sense of being a victim. We know this from Christian culture too – Jesus Christ is regularly referred to as a “martyr” in Christian culture – not because he killed or tried to kill someone – but because he himself was made a victim and brutally killed for his beliefs.

“So what happened then?”, I asked Dareen. Did they arrest you after that post with Israa Abed?

“Yes, they arrested me two days after, on the 11th of October 2015, and I spent 97 days in prison. I underwent about 4-5 interrogations, and only in the last interrogation they actually showed me screenshots of what they were arresting me for”, she says.

“They didn’t tell you what they were arresting you for at first?”, I ask.

“No, I had no idea”, she says.

So then, when they finally told Dareen what they were charging her for and why, they had already added two other posts to the case. They had dug through her Facebook wall, and found the poem “Resist them”, as well as another post where Dareen wrote: “Allah Akbar and Baruch Hashem [thank God, in Hebrew], Islamic Jihad declared intifada throughout the whole West Bank and expansion to all Palestine. We should begin inside the Green Line”.

There can be many meanings attributed to these additional two posts, and the trial has been full of interpretations. But I wanted to hear what Dareen herself felt about the “Islamic Jihad” post.

“When they showed it to me, I laughed”, she said. “I was certainly not affiliated with Islamic Jihad, and that they were saying I was just because I mentioned that organization and charging me for it, that made me laugh.”

And what about the poem, “Resist Them”? Here I asked Dareen specifically about this part:

“Resist, my people, resist them.
Resist the settler’s robbery
And follow the caravan of martyrs.
Shred the disgraceful constitution
Which imposed degradation and humiliation
And deterred us from restoring justice.
They burned blameless children;
As for Hadil, they sniped her in public,
Killed her in broad daylight.”

“Yes, you see, I was referring to Mohammed Abu Khdeir, Ali Dawabshe, and Hadeel al-Hashlamoun”, Dareen said.

18-year-old Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on 22nd September 2015 at a checkpoint in occupied Al-Khalil (Hebron) – while posing no threat to soldiers. They simply suspected her, standing behind the metal barrier. She was shot 10 times. Amnesty International unequivocally called it an “extrajudicial execution”. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass has covered this several times. In her later piece titled “The Execution of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun”, Hass writes:

“An Israel Defense Forces investigation revealed that the soldiers who killed Hashlamoun on September 22, while she was passing through a checkpoint at the entrance to the old city in Hebron, could have done with only arresting her. Human rights organizations and journalists, not to mention basic logic, reached the same conclusion much earlier. At least two soldiers shot the 18-year-old from a distance of two to four meters. Three bullets hit her legs. Another seven — her upper body. She fell to the ground after the first shots, but our soldiers continued to spray her with bullets.”

Interpreted from an Israeli standpoint

Dareen continues:

“So you see, I was referring to those people as innocent victims. And these people were actually in a context – they were all occupied Palestinians within the 1967 occupation. You see, I want an independent Palestine in 1967 borders”.

“Yes, that’s interesting, Dareen”, I said. “I’ve seen discussions, actually on Danielle’s Facebook wall, when she posted your song “Resist Them” recently, and some people were taking issue with this particular part:

“I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution,’
Never lower my flags
Until I evict them from my land”.

“They were saying that this suggests that you don’t want peace, and that you don’t want Jews anywhere in Palestine. Yet another responder was saying that “my land” doesn’t have to mean all of historical Palestine”, I said.

“Yes, I meant 1967 occupied Palestine, and I did not mean this in relation to people as persons, but in the sense of getting rid of the occupation”, Dareen said. With ‘Peaceful solution’ I was referring to the ‘peace process’, and Ariel Sharon, he ruined it in 2000 [when he went up to the the Al Aqsa compound with 1,500 guards, igniting the 2nd Intifada]. These are the people who ruin the peace – Israeli leaders. That’s what I meant with it”.

Dareen continued to tell me how her poem, which became a central issue in the case, was mainly interpreted from an Israeli standpoint. “The prosecution didn’t ask me what I meant. A poem requires understanding of the meaning of the poet. This is about art”, she accentuates.

“When we say words like “Intifada”, it means something else than what Israelis usually think”, she says.

“Yes, I know, it really means ‘shaking off’”, I said.

“Yes, and they immediately think “terror”, says Dareen. When we say “Shahid”, they think immediately “terrorist”. And when we say “resist”, they think “terror”.

In other words, every act of Palestinian political dissent is automatically translated as “terror”. Yes, that actually makes a lot of sense, in a strange sort of way, I think to myself.

“But there were some Israeli professors who were supporting your position and right to artistic expression, like Nissim Kalderon…” I said.

“Yes, and also Yoni Mendel”, Dareen adds.

Yoav Haifawi has succinctly covered these dissenting Israeli academic views, and it’s really worth noting:

Prof. Nissim Calderon, an expert on Hebrew literature, stated in his expert opinion that there are special rules concerning the expression of poets, describing a long tradition of poets who used harsh words to oppose oppression or injustice — sometimes going so far as to clearly call for violent actions. The poets, Calderon said, were not prosecuted, even by oppressive regimes like the Tsar in Russia or the British Mandate in Palestine.

He cited Hayim Nachman Bialik, one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry, who once wrote the lines: “With furious cruelty / We will drink your blood mercilessly.” Calderon also cited poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, who wrote: “Give me my sword, I won’t return it to its scabbard / What did my lips elicit? I want battles.” Despite these clear calls for violence by leading Jewish poets, the Tsar’s anti-Semitic secret police refrained from arresting or prosecuting them.

The third example Calderon cited at length was right-wing Zionist poet, Uri Tsvi Greenberg. Greenberg openly incited to violence and was a member of “Brit HaBirionim” (The Thugs Alliance), a Zionist organization that violently resisted the British occupation. He was never punished for his poems. […]

Perhaps the prosecution felt some relief when the defense brought its own Hebrew translation of the poem, done by Dr. Yoni Mendel, an experienced literary translator and Arabic expert. His translation was significantly different from the one that appeared in the indictment. Mendel, too, provided expert testimony, claiming that the police’s translation had deliberately and systematically distorted the text to make it appear extremist and violent.

The most blatant contradiction between the two translations was in the following lines: “Do not fear the tongues of the Merkava tank \ The truth in your heart is stronger \ As long as you are rebel in a land \ That has lived through raids but wasn’t exhausted.” The last two verses were translated by the policeman to “As long as you resist in a land \ Long live the Gazawat and will not tire.”

The police officer omitted the word “Gazawat,” likely because he could not find the proper translation into Hebrew. In his testimony, Mendel explained that the word was used by Arab tribes at the time of the Jahiliyya (what Muslims call the period before the founding of Islam) to describe attacks on tribes for the purpose of robbery or enslaving women. Tatour’s text clearly uses these lines to refer to the raids that Palestinians are subject to; the police translation, somehow, managed to transform the victim into the aggressor.

“It’s good to laugh about it”

“So how did the judge relate to these views?”, I asked Dareen.

“Well, it’s like she wrote a whole essay on her own about the poem”, Dareen remarks bitterly. “She found the views of Calderon and Mendel less convincing than the police translator, because she said he speaks Arabic. Yes, he studied Arabic for 12 years and then he became a police translator. The judge thought he had a ‘liking’ of Arabic.

“Maybe he had a ‘liking’ of Arabic, but not necessarily of ‘Arabs’”, I joked. Dareen laughs.

“It’s good to laugh about it”, Dareen says.

And imagine that, she still can. After nearly three years of arrest, essentially for a poetic expression of resistance, Dareen is facing a possible additional 8-year prison sentence for two counts.

Dareen is not optimistic about what will be decided by the court and announced on the 31st of this month.

This is the reality a Palestinian can face when they say “Resist them, my people, Resist them”.


The views expressed in this entry are the writer’s only and do not necessarily represent those of The Turban Times.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli-Danish conductor, musician, writer and blogger, writing regularly for Mondoweiss.

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