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Criminalizing poetry, imprisoning poets

Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour is seen in an Israeli courtroom with her family and supporters before a hearing in the northern city of Nazareth on November 20. Tatour was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on her home on October 11, 2015 for a poem she published on social media. She spent three months in jail and for a year and a half since then has been under house arrest.

Confined now to her family home, she is under constant surveillance and forbidden to use a computer or smart phone. As one consequence, she can no longer support herself (prior to her arrest she managed a beauty salon), nor is her family allowed to have a computer in their home.

The reason given for Tatour’s arrest is a poem she wrote and recited on the internet, called “Resist My People, Resist Them.” Israel’s effort to convict Tatour has included bringing a series of experts in both Arabic and Arabic poetry to dissect the words of this 35-year poet who was largely unknown before her arrest.

Over her 3 months in jail, Tatour was interrogated and transferred several times. “After the third interrogation, when they brought the poem in for the first time, it was like watching myself in a movie. I am going to sit in prison because of a poem. …The serious problem was that they mistranslated [the poem]. It isn’t even an issue of interpretation—the translation was wrong and thus the police’s interpretation was completely off.”

Hundreds of writers, poets, translators, editors, artists and others signed a petition in 2015 urging Tatour’s release. PEN America describes Tatour’s case as just one of several cases of administrative detention of journalists and others using social media to publish their writing, including the cases of Palestinian journalists Muhammed al Qiq and Omar Nazzal.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, administration detention in Israel is used to hold thousands of Palestinians for lengthy periods without trial or charge. It alleges that a person plans to commit a future offense, has no time limit, and the evidence on which it is based is not disclosed. The court review of detention orders is merely symbolic—as the individual detained doesn’t even know why they are being held and thus can mount no defense.

I’ll forget it, as you wish

As you wish,

I’ll forget it.

The story of us that’s now part of the past

And the dreams that were once the fill of our hearts

We would have liked to make them come true,

But we killed them.

I’ll forget things, O love of my life

Things we said.

The poems we wrote on the walls of our hearts

And drew in colors.

The trees under which we sat for a time,

And the names we carved.

I’ll forget them,

As you wish.

So don’t be angry.

                        —Dareen Tatour

Translated by Jonathan Wright and reprinted from Nomadics, New Poems by Darreen Tatour.

Quoted statements by Dareen Tatour are from an August 2017 interview in +972, an on-line platform that presents independent journalism in Israel-Palestine. Additional references are from Electronic Intifada.

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