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Israeli Arab Dareen Tatour Sentenced to 5 Months in Prison Over Pro-Palestinian Poem

An Israeli Arab poet was sentenced on Tuesday to five months’ imprisonment for social media posts, including a video of a poetry reading expressing support for Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.

Haaretz reports Dareen Tatour, 36, was sentenced in Nazareth District court after being convicted in May of incitement to violence and supporting a terrorist organization. In October 2015, she posted a YouTube video showing Palestinians clashing with Israeli forces in which she reads her poem, “Resist My People, Resist Them,” which contains the lines:

Resist, my people, resist them…
For an Arab Palestine
I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution”
Never lower my flags until I evict them from my land…
Resist, my people, resist them
Resist the settler’s robbery and follow the caravan of martyrs…

Tatour said she was not surprised by the sentence.

“I expected prison and that’s what happened,” she said. “I didn’t expect justice. The prosecution was political to begin with because I’m Palestinian, because it’s about free speech and I’m imprisoned because I’m Palestinian.”

In addition to publishing the poetry-reading video, Tatour also posted a news story from Islamic Jihad, an armed Palestinian resistance group considered a terrorist organization by Israel, calling for “a continuation of the Intifada,” or armed struggle against Israel’s illegal 50-year occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights. She was also charged for posting a photo of a knife-wielding Arab woman shot dead by Israeli security forces and another image of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces, beneath which she wrote “I am the next shahid.”

While “shahid” means “martyr,” the word has different meanings to Jewish and Arab ears. The court found that  Tatour was guilty of incitement since she had used “shahid” to describe a Palestinian who was killed after stabbing an Israeli teenager.

“The combination leaves no interpretation of the word ‘martyr’ other than a violent interpretation that incites to terrorism, and to follow martyr-attackers,” the verdict read.

However, Arabic language expert Dr. Yoni Mendel testified that Tatour was not calling for violence:

“The poem was written from the victim’s perspective. It deals with resistance against violence and occupation and does not call for violence itself…

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’ 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.”

“I never expected justice from the Israeli courts,” Tatour said in response to the May verdict. “I knew that I would be convicted of the accusations… I will… keep writing.”

Israel asserted that online incitement was fueling the wave of stabbing, shooting and vehicle attacks that began in 2015 in response to a series of hostile events. These included a Jewish settler “price tag” arson attack that killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe and both of his parents, as well as tensions over access to the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.

Tatour’s prosecution was widely viewed as one of the most visible signs of a crackdown on Arab free speech. During her trial, Tatour’s lawyer cited Israeli police statistics showing that Jews who post explicit online calls for the murder of Arabs are not similarly arrested or brought to trial.

For example, in 2015, ultranationalist Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked posted a pro-settlement journalist’s call for genocide against Palestinians on her Facebook page.

”There is serious discrimination here,” Gaby Lasky, Tatour’s attorney, told the court. “If she was Jewish, there would be no case.”

“My trial ripped off the masks,” Tatour said at the time. “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.”

“[This] court convicted Dareen Tatour because… she spoke the truth,” Haneen Zoabi, an Israeli Arab lawmaker from the Joint List party, said after the poet’s conviction. “Arabs cannot freely give word to their feelings. And poets are forbidden from speaking critically.”

While Israeli Arabs technically have the same rights as Jews under Israeli law, many critics — including the US government, the Jewish state’s primary benefactor and supporter — note widespread discrimination against Arabs throughout Israeli society, including in education, employment, housing and the criminal justice system. Arab critics frequently describe themselves as second-class citizens in a country some have called a Jewish supremacist state. A recently-passed “Jewish nation state” law has reinforced these beliefs, with even many prominent Jews condemning its legalized discrimination against Arabs.

Tatour’s case has attracted widespread international attention and sympathy. In the United States, more than 300 prominent literary figures, including nine Pulitzer Prize winners, have called on Israel to free the poet. PEN International, a worldwide writers group, also weighed in, blasting Israel for convicting Tatour “for doing what writers do every day, [using] our words to peacefully challenge injustice.”

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Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. 

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