August 4, 2016 – After three months in Israeli prisons and more than six months under house arrest in an apartment near Tel Aviv, last week an Israeli judge ruled to allow Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour to continue her house arrest in her family home near Nazareth. Tatour’s appeal to move her house arrest from an apartment that her family was forced to rent outside Tel Aviv was granted shortly after over 250 literary figures, including 10 Pulitzer Prize-winners, called for her freedom in a letter stating that “that poetry is not a crime.” Tatour finally returned to her family home on July 26th, and is still under house arrest.
Despite this immediate victory, Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, still faces a maximum possible sentence of eight years in prison if convicted on all charges. Her trial will resume on September 6th. Tatour was arrested at her home in October 2015 by Israeli police. She was charged with incitement to violence primarily over a poem she posted online, “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” and two Facebook posts. The conditions of her ongoing house arrest require her to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, forbid her to use the internet, and only allow her to leave her home three days a week, for two hours each day.
Dareen Tatour explained, “The accusations against me are an attempt to criminalize any expression of legitimate Palestinian political resistance to Israel's occupation. The poem at the center of the indictment speaks about the killing of innocent Palestinians by settlers and by occupation soldiers. Once again Israel not only kills Palestinians, but at the same time won’t even let Palestinians speak of their experience of victimhood."
Over 7,000 individuals have now signed the letter calling for Tatour’s freedom. The letter states that, “expressing resistance to oppression and Occupation through poetry is by nature non-violent and should not be criminalized by any government.” The ten Pulitzer Prize-winners who signed the letter are poets Rae Armantrout, Carl Dennis, Rita Dove, Jorie Graham, Tracy K. Smith, and Natasha Tretheway; fiction writers Viet Than Nguyen and Alice Walker; playwright Lynn Nottage; and journalist Kathryn Schulz. Among the other award-winning signers are novelists Susan Abulhawa, Edwidge Danticat, Dave Eggers, Laila Lalami and Ayelet Waldman; poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine; poet, editor and translator Carolyn Forché; and public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein (View letter and signers).
One signer of the letter, Palestinian American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, was moved to write a poem for Palestine and Dareen, called “Talking Forever.” The poem notes, “Dareen, trapped in her house for using the word ‘Resist’” … “talking forever, but the checkpoint lines got longer,” … “the powerful kept saying, Give the oppressors more money, they are a democracy.”
Tatour is one of 400 Palestinians Israel has arrested in the last year for expressing resistance to the Israeli military occupation on social media. Israel has also mounted “a multipronged campaign,” according to The Intercept, to pressure Facebook to restrict Palestinians’ Facebook use. Facebook has not responded to Israel’s request that it turn over all of Dareen Tatour’s records.
Ethan Heitner of Adalah-NY commented, “The prosecution of Dareen Tatour is yet another example of the Israeli government’s repression of Palestinians’ freedom of expression and of Palestinian artists. The support for Dareen shows that concerned citizens worldwide, including a growing number of artists, recognize that Israel’s denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people must end.”
Tatour is not the only Palestinian poet now under attack by the Israeli government. Two weeks ago Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman compared the late Mahmoud Darwish, considered the Palestinian national poet, to Hitler, and reprimanded Israel’s army radio for broadcasting one of Darwish’s poems. In the past Israel imprisoned leading Palestinian poets like Samih Al Qasim and Tawfiq Zayyad, and writers like Mahmoud Shukair and Ahmad Qatamesh. Israel regularly denies entry to Palestinian writers living in the diaspora attempting to visit their homeland, and has closed or threatened to close Palestinian cultural festivals and theaters.