Over 150 literary figures are calling for the release of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who since last year has faced charges in Israel for sharing her poetry on Facebook and on YouTube. Now under house arrest, Tatour will undergo scheduled hearings through September, when she may receive additional prison time if convicted then, according to Jewish Voice for Peace. The national grassroots organization published the open letter yesterday, signed by prominent names including Alice Walker, Susan Abulhawa, Dave Eggers, Molly Crabapple, and Naomi Shihab Nye.
“We believe in the rights of artists and writers to freely express their artistic vision, and share work freely,” it reads. “The Israeli government’s actions reveal a desire to silence Tatour, part of a larger pattern of Israeli repression against all Palestinians. Expressing resistance to oppression and Occupation through poetry is by nature non-violent and should not be criminalized by any government.”
Police had arrested Tatour early on the morning of October 11, 2015, without a search or arrest warrant, according to PEN America, with a court indicting her in November — after a month of imprisonment — with “Incitement to Violence” and “Support for a Terrorist Organization.” As reason for the charges, the prosecution noted Tatour had published in early October a video on her Facebook and YouTube accounts of herself reciting her poem, “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” over footage of conflicts between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. In that same week, she also shared on Facebook a photograph of an innocent Israeli Arab woman shot by police with the caption, “I will be the next martyr.” Her participation in a memorial gathering for victims of the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre and her poetry reading at a “Woman’s Day” event in Nazareth also emerged in court as evidence.
“The worst thing that can happen to an artist in general, and a poet in particular, is to be imprisoned in the democratic era in which we live for expressing his opinion,” Tatour said in a statement. “Imprisonment is tantamount to cutting the cords of feelings and emotions whose letters connect between what he is writing and the people … and if this communication is cut, there is no value to all that is written by this poet, no matter how outstanding his style.
“Actually there is no value and meaning to the human existence of the individual in this democracy, and basically no value to this democracy. My freedom, after nine months of harsh detention and exile, is a guarantee to the endurance of freedom for every poet, writer, and artist, wherever they are.”
Tatour had spent three months in three different prisons before being placed under house arrest. Since January, she’s lived in an apartment in Kiryat Ono, a few miles east of Tel Aviv, rented to shelter her for the duration of her legal proceedings. When her hearings continue on July 18, she may appeal to be transferred to house arrest in her own hometown of Reineh. The court has ruled that she must remain 25 miles away from her home because of the alleged danger she poses to the public.
The publication of the letter is meant to draw attention to Tatour’s plight but also launches an international solidarity campaign organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah-NY intended to highlight the widespread arrests of Palestinians, particularly writers and artists, on grounds of political expression through social media. Tatour is just one of around 400 Palestinians whom Israeli security forces have arrested since last October for their activity on social media, where many share news about arrests and deaths related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Journalist Alex Kane recently published a piece on The Intercept detailing Israel’s increased surveillance of Palestinians, specifically on Facebook. In a move that signals a commitment to cracking down on possible resistance, government officials have also drafted a new law that would give Israel’s courts the power to demand that Facebook remove content that the state deems threatening or dangerous to Israelis. If implemented, the severe measure would likely have a chilling effect on those who turn to the internet as a place for sharing and self-expressing.