In Israel, social media poetry can land you in jail

Poet Abu Areeshe fears that the conviction will influence other Palestinian poets and writers in their activities.
Sunday 20/05/2018
Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour at her house in Reineh, last September. (Reuters)
Poetic licence. Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour at her house in Reineh, last September. (Reuters)

JERUSALEM - Poet Dareen Tatour was convicted by an Israeli court this month of incitement to violence and supporting terrorist organisations because of social media posts, including a video that showed one of her poems.

Tatour, 36, is an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin who lives in Reineh, a small town near Nazareth in Israel. She was arrested in 2015 after posting a video accompanied by the lyrics of her poem, called “Resist, my people, resist them.”

The video shows Tatour reading her poem against the background of masked Palestinians throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers. The prosecution claimed that the poem calls for violent acts and terrorism. According to Tatour, the writing was mistranslated and the defence called the poem an “expression of protest.”

“The Arabic language is rich, much richer than Hebrew,” said Ramy Sayegh, a political activist and member of the Balad Party (Israeli-Arab political party). “She wrote about resistance, but resistance in Arabic can mean many things. I’m surprised they used this to accuse her of encouraging terrorism.”

The indictment included two other poems by Tatour and a photo she uploaded to Facebook that included the text “I am the next Martyr.”  According to the prosecution, Tatour encouraged suicide attacks by posting the photo. Tatour said she published the photo in response to the burning of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian who was kidnapped and murdered in 2014 one day after the burial of three murdered Israeli teenagers.

“We are being treated as enemies instead of citizens of Israel,” said poet Mahmoud Abu Areeshe from Jaffa. “We are talking about freedom of speech here. Tatour called for resistance because she wants peace. According to international law, resistance is allowed.”

After Tatour was arrested, she spent three months in detention and was then released to house arrest with an electronic monitoring device. Four months later, she was granted the right to leave the house for two hours on weekends, but she was not allowed to go alone or to use a mobile phone or the internet.

Nearly two and a half years later, Tatour was convicted. “The whole world will hear my story. The whole world will hear what Israel’s democracy is. A democracy for Jews only. Only Arabs go to jail,” Tatour said after her conviction, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “The court said I am convicted of terrorism. If that’s my terrorism, I give the world a terrorism of love,” she said.

“The trial took a long time, during which she couldn’t work or go anywhere,” said Sayegh. “When it’s concerning security issues, the Israeli court often takes a long time, but it’s also been a long process because this is a unique case. Tatour writes political poetry, which isn’t common. More often poets write about social topics.”

Poet Abu Areeshe fears that the conviction will influence other Palestinian poets and writers in their activities. “It’s terrifying what happened to Tatour. Many Palestinians are afraid to openly express their feelings and opinions and don’t want to be politically involved,” said Abu Areeshe. “As Palestinians in Israel we know that we are in danger all the time and that we might be targeted by the government, but I will continue to write and publish online.”

Abu Areeshe writes about the political situation and his personal experiences as an Arab citizen of Israel. He published his first book in Beirut and is working on publishing his second book online.

Tatour faces up to eight years in prison. While her time on house arrest will be taken into account during sentencing, Tatour will most likely spend time in prison.

It would not be the first time the Israeli government has imprisoned Palestinian writers. In 2017, writer Ahmed Qatamesh, who had spent time in Israeli jail before, was ordered to three months of administrative detention. “It’s a known phenomenon that writers and people in academia are imprisoned, but we should continue creating our art,” said Abu Areeshe.