PRISON STORIES: Dareen Tatour, poet

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by Netta Ahituv, Ha’aretz (abridged)

[Dareen Tatour is a Palestinian poet who was arrested for posting a poem on social media. Here is the poem, translated into English by the poet Tariq al Haydar.]

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

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.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Dareen Tatour, 36, is not a woman one easily forgets. She seems so fragile – slightly built almost to an extreme, with awkward movements and body language seemingly articulating a wish to disappear and attract as little attention as possible – but at the same time she projects a solid, tough essence that stems from strength and courage.

Moreover, there is the disparity between the state’s view of her – “a terrorist criminal,” according to Culture Minister Miri Regev; “dangerous,” according to the prosecution in the trial; “an inciter to violence,” according to the indictment – and the good-heartedness she displays when one meets her in person, the compassion and love of humanity that she evokes.

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The discrepancy between that feeling and her public image seems even more pronounced when I ask her directly, “Tell me, Dareen, do you want Jews to die, to be injured, to suffer? Is that what you tried to achieve in your poems and Facebook posts?”

She asks me if I feel threatened sitting with her alone in a friend’s home, where we had agreed to meet.

No, I tell her, not for a moment during any of our conversations did I feel even a smidgen of hatred emanating from her or any sense that she was threatening.

“Do you feel that I am capable of hurting you, or the members of your nation, or anyone?” she wonders.

Still, you shared a post from Islamic Jihad, an organization that has sent suicide bombers to kill civilians, and you called for the expansion of the national struggle into Israel. It’s not unreasonable to see that text as a call for bloodshed.

“The police misinterpreted it. I accepted their translation of it [from Arabic into Hebrew], but not the interpretation.”

Here’s your opportunity to explain it in your words, without the mediation of the police or of politicians exploiting your case.

“The post was written in response to a ban on worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. I called for resistance to that ban.”

Let’s talk about this passage in your poem, “Resist, My People, Resist Them”: “And I carried the soul in my palm. / For an Arab Palestine / I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution’ / Never lower my flags / Until I evict them from my land” [translation by Tariq al Haydar]. What do you mean by “I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution’” and “evict them from my land”?

I’m sitting with you, and I am impressed by your sensitivity – but do you understand that a Jew who reads that text literally will conclude that you want him to get out of here and that there’s no room for compromise?

“It’s odd for me to interpret every word in my poems. Still, by ‘peaceful solution,’ I meant the Oslo Accords, which didn’t actually help the Palestinians. The peace agreement I’m striving for is that of one state for the two peoples, an egalitarian state.”

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[A play about the life of Dareen Tatour was written by Einat Weizman, which addresses not just the issue of Tatour’s poetry and the backlash against it, but also the experiences she had being raped as a child - and how much of Arab culture silences and/or blames women for rape.]

“Two types of suppression are apparent in Dareen’s story, and in certain ways they echo one another,” Weitzman says. “Dareen was punished for trying to expose wrongdoing publicly. By revealing that she was raped, she threatened to break the conspiracy of silence in the surrounding society. Through the post for which she was punished by the State of Israel she also sought to express a forbidden voice, this time against the suppression of Palestinians.

“Lately we are seeing time and again signs of suppression of every voice that is critical of the occupation and of Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians. People are being punished for posts and for being members of nonviolent resistance organizations, and creators are being threatened and deprived of funding because of the opinions they voice. Instead of standing firm, expressing remorse and punishing those who commit the crime, [the authorities] are punishing those who talk about it. It’s important for me, and for Dareen, that this double silencing and suppression is given a voice.”

Tatour is distressed by the attitude taken toward her during her three-year legal ordeal. It started when policemen entered her home at 4 A.M. on October 11, 2015, with weapons drawn, as though she were a dangerous criminal. The Israel Police stated, when asked for comment by Haaretz: “The accused was arrested in suspicion of inciting to violence and supporting a terrorist organization, amid a concrete suspicion that she was liable to perpetrate a terrorist attack.”

Tatour and [her attorney Gaby] Lasky are currently appealing her convictions – for both support of a terror group and incitement to violence – before the Supreme Court.

“The judgment is a crude attempt by the court to interpret poetry the way a contract is interpreted,” Lasky tells Haaretz. “Without depth, without the underlying background, as though it were a two-dimensional text with a single meaning, not poetry. Anyone who interprets poetry that way is missing the truth, and when a government puts citizens on trial for poetry, it infringes on the cultural wealth of an entire society. I was disappointed to see how culture was cheapened in an attempt to justify a conviction.”

Dareen Tatour upon her release from prison.  Rami Shllush

Dareen Tatour upon her release from prison. Rami Shllush

Since she was released from prison about six weeks ago, Tatour has been trying to create a new life for herself. She’s looking for a job (“Jews don’t want to employ me and Arabs are afraid to employ me”), working on the publication of the many poems she wrote in prison – “I was arrested for one poem and came out with 105 poems” – and editing the novel she has written, based on the 305 pages of memoir she wrote about the whole period.

“I need to get used to new people and to a new reality in my life,” she says. “The whole family has changed. Everything has changed. Nothing remains as it was – feelings, life. Many friends abandoned me. People are afraid to be with me, because now I’m a ‘terrorist.’ No one really believes that, but they’re afraid anyway.”

I know you’re a vegetarian – can you tell me why?

“I’ve been a vegetarian since I was little. I think animals deserve to live and that we humans can get along without eating them. I can’t bear to see an animal suffer and also to think that it’s human beings who are making it suffer.”

I can imagine the cynical reactions to your vegetarianism: “She wants animals to live, but not Jews.”

Tatour becomes serious: “I don’t want anyone to die. That’s the truth. My intention in the poem was an uprising, to rise up against injustice, against the occupation itself. That’s all.”

Do you want to raise a family?

“I don’t want children as long as we are living this kind of life here. I can’t bring another child into the world to suffer. I also can’t live with a man after what I went through. At first the family pressed for matchmaking, but I fought against it. It’s tough in Arab society, because an unmarried woman is an embarrassment.”

What did you think of the judge, Adi Bambilia-Einstein, and of the verdict she delivered?

“If she had a bit of logic and compassion, she could have convicted me without sending me to back prison. There’s one thing I will never forget – the judge’s smile. From that I learned that she too is imprisoned, even more than I. She imprisoned herself. I believe she did what she didn’t want to do. She wanted to free me, but the decision wasn’t in her hands. My feeling was that she did something she didn’t want to do.”

What is responsible for your political consciousness?

“I always wrote political poetry, I wrote about what I felt and about how I saw my people. I too am under occupation, because all my relatives are refugees who can’t return to their villages. My grandmother always used to tell me about the conquest of the villages and about how she saw Jews shoot her family in 1948. I feel that, I live that.”

What solution do you see? Are you in favor of two states for two nations?

“I am for a state of all its citizens, without difference of religion and race. Palestinians with Jews, Jews with Palestinians. A democratic state.”

Tatour’s trial also dealt with the power of words. The near-philosophical question was raised in court as to what words are capable of fomenting, and whether writing poetic words is a crime. “I believe in poetry now more than ever. Before the arrest, I wondered whether words can alter reality. In its wake, I feel that the whole world connected with my words. I discovered that this is the most potent force there is. Words are the only means to convey a certain culture to others. Poets are those who convey moments from one place to another, and expose truths. That’s what happened in my case. Now the truth has been exposed about Israeli democracy.”

Kathryn ShihadahComment