Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour was found guilty of incitement to violence and supporting a terror organization, for poems and comments she posted to social media, in a decision handed down by the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court Thursday morning.
The two-and-a-half-year legal and literary saga, which has garnered international attention, has become a battleground for debates over free speech, discrimination and relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority.
“I never expected justice from the Israeli courts,” Tatour said in response to the verdict. “I knew that I would be convicted of the accusations… I will… keep writing.”
Tatour, 37, is an Israeli citizen from the village of Reineh in the north of Israel. She was indicted in November 2015 for pictures and poems posted to Facebook and YouTube, and has since been held under house arrest. Tatour is one of only a few Israelis who have been convicted for their social media activity.
In October 2015, she posted a YouTube video of her reading her poem “Resist my People, Resist Them,” accompanied by pictures of Palestinians clashing with Israeli security forces.
An English translation of the poem, translated by Tariq al Haydar and posted on the website arablit.org, includes the lines: “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.”
That same month, Tatour also posted a news story from Islamic Jihad calling for “a continuation of the Intifada” and three pictures to her Facebook page. One picture was of Asra’a Abed, a knife-wielding Israeli-Arab woman killed by Israeli security forces in Beer Sheva on October 9, 2015, and the others were of Ali Dawabsheh and Muhammad Abu Khdeir, Palestinian children killed by Jewish extremists months before. Beneath the pictures she had written in Arabic: “I am the next shahid” – the same word is used about the two children in Tatour’s poem.
The literary question of the translation of the Arabic shahid – often rendered as “martyr” and often used to describe Palestinians who are killed while committing attacks against Israelis – was at the center of her case.
Prosecutors said that her poems and posts encouraged others to perpetrate violence and terror against Israel.
The prosecution argued that the images of violence in Tartour’s posts connect with the poem, which they said called on Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs to resist Israel and to join an Intifada.
HOWEVER, Gaby Lasky, Tatour’s lawyer, argued that prosecutors had relied on a police officer’s misleading and inaccurate translation of the Arabic poem.
Literary expert Prof. Nissim Calderon testified on Tatour’s behalf that poets should have a special privilege to speak freely, even when advocating violence, and argued that canonical Israeli Hebrew poets had written much worse verse.
The defense also argued that Israeli Police statistics show that Jewish Israelis who post explicit calls for violence against Arabs and Palestinians on social media – including the phrase “death to Arabs” – are not similarly arrested and tried.
“There is serious discrimination here,” Lasky said. “If she was Jewish, there would be no case.”
The verdict will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, Lasky added, and will cause writers to censor themselves. “This decision establishes a clear precedent that criminalizes poetry.”
“The poem was written from the victim’s perspective. It deals with resistance against violence and occupation and does not call for violence itself,” said Dr. Yoni Mendel, an expert in Arabic and a researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute who also testified at Tatour’s trial.
“The phrase ‘follow the caravan of martyrs,’ which was the basis for the prosecution’s case, was translated to Hebrew as ‘follow the caravan of shahidim,’” Mendel said, “as if it were a call for violence against innocent people. But in fact, the only two shahidim mentioned in the poem are the children Muhammad Abu Khdeir and Ali Dawabshe, who are both Palestinians murdered by Jewish extremists – the farthest that could be from Palestinians killed while trying to harm Israelis.”
Ever since her 2015 arrest, international organizations and prominent writers abroad have advocated for Tatour. PEN America, among others, has organized letter-writing campaigns on her behalf.
“Today the Nazareth court convicted Dareen Tatour because… she spoke the truth,” said Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi, who was present in the courtroom, in reaction to the verdict. “Arabs cannot freely give word to their feelings. And poets are forbidden from speaking critically.”
“Under the cultural regime of Regev and Arden, art is silenced.”
“I applaud this decision,” said Miri Regev, Minister of Culture and Sport.
“The court’s verdict proves that the law must be changed to obligate not supporting organizations that undermine Israel and its values,” Regev added.
Tatour’s lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.