In one of her first interviews after being released from an Israeli jail, Ahed Tamimi reminded her now global audience that she was “just one simple prisoner. There are prisoners who have longer sentences,” she said, “Those are the people who are in need of our attention.” A few days later, on August 1, the significance of Tamimi’s words became crystal clear when Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour was sentenced to five months in prison over Facebook posts and a poem entitled “Resist, My People, Resist.” Tatour’s case, which had been ongoing since 2015, is both unique and unsurprising, even predictable, for anyone familiar with Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians: unique because of the rising trend in social media surveillance, policing and arrests by Israel; and commonplace because of Israel’s well documented proclivity for criminalizing anything Palestinians do and say — including writing poetry.
Tatour’s case began in October 2015 when, in reaction to the cold blooded and senseless shooting of twenty-nine-year-old student Israa Abed, she posted on Facebook saying “I am the next martyr.” Soon, Tatour’s house was raided by Israeli forces. She was arrested, even though it was clear she had no plans to carry out any kind of attack. She was soon released, but the Israeli state seemed intent on punishing Tatour, and opened an investigation into all her social media accounts, as well as the contents of her computer and phone. Finally, Israeli authorities settled on one poem and two innocuous Facebook status’ and, in November 2015, filed a lawsuit accusing Tatour of terrorism and painting her as a “security threat” to Israel.
The poem, translated here and performed here by Tatour, is classic resistance fodder. With lines like “Shred the disgraceful constitution/Which imposed degradation and humiliation/And deterred us from restoring justice,” it is clearly a poem about Palestinian resilience and commitment to justice and not an incitement to violent attacks. Of course, promoting Palestinian empowerment, which Israel views as a security threat, is precisely why Tatour was arrested. After the filing of the complaint, Tatour was placed under house arrest. She was tried in May 2018, where she was found guilty of “incitement to violence” and “support of a terrorist organization.” Her sentence was handed down this past week.
Tatour’s conviction is part and parcel of Israel’s long history of criminalizing Palestinian identity. The Israeli state remains dedicated to the absolute eradication of Palestinians. Tatour’s house arrest and jail sentence are an extension of this pervasive oppression, which seeks to alienate Palestinians from themselves. Yet Tatour’s story, for all its parallels with classic Israeli oppression, is special, and deserves special attention. Tatour is a writer and activist in the vein of the most radical feminist liberation leaders. Since her imprisonment, she has shared the intimacy of her inner life with the world. She has written about her rape, love, and despair in unflinching yet generous ways. “There is no one and no law that will be able to prevent me from writing about all aspects of humanity,” Tatour said in an interview with Mondoweiss recently, “this exposure has motivated me to convey the pain of women as well as the Palestinian pain, beyond the borders.”
It remains to be seen whether Tatour’s sentencing will be her last collision with Israeli law enforcement. Either way, her work is worth following not only because it highlights Israeli aggression, but also because art like hers matters to the world.