The prosecution in the poet’s trial tries to cause the court addiction to snuff films

(This report was initially published in Hebrew)

The court hearing in the case “The State of Israel v. Palestinian Poet Dareen Tatour“, held on Tuesday, March 28, was meant to be short, even boring. Only one defense witness remained and his testimony was intended to be purely technical. Since the parties will submit the summaries in writing, and each side will be given about a month to write them, we expected that, following this hearing, Judge Adi Bambiliya-Einstein will set the next hearing in two and a half or three months time.

Finally, we watched a tense legal drama with original artistic elements.

The claim of discrimination in enforcement

The last witness on behalf of the defense was a policeman – Chief Inspector Yaniv Hami – who is responsible in the Israeli police for answering public requests in the context of freedom of information.

Break in the trial - March 28

Break in the hearing, March 28, 2017

One of the defense arguments in this case is the claim of discrimination in enforcement: while the network is full of severe and violent incitement against the Palestinian Arab residents of Israel, the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office prefer to investigate and prosecute almost only Arabs, even for relatively moderate publications. In the early stages of the trial, the attorney at the time, Abed Fahoum, asked the judge to instruct the police and the state prosecutor to provide him with relevant statistical data so that he could substantiate his claim. The judge refused the request on the grounds that there was not even a shred of evidence of discriminatory enforcement.

The current defense lawyers, Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati, have found a way around this obstacle. It turned out that in June 2016, the “Negev Coexistence Forum” submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to receive data about investigations, arrests and indictments for offenses involving incitement on social networks. The police’s reply was given to the applicants in August 2016 by Chief Inspector Hami, and he was now summoned to deliver it as a defense document in Tatour’s case.

At the time, John Brown and Noam Rotem covered the police data as received in a long (Hebrew) article in “Local Call” under the headline “Police data: dozens of indictments against Arabs for incitement, zero against Jews.”

Attorney Ramati gave in advance to the prosecution the data that he had received from the coexistence forum, but it turned out that the data brought by Inspector Hami to the court was organized in a different manner. The prosecutor, Alina Hardak, claimed that the defense had misled her and attempted to provide the court with data that is not backed by the testimony of the witness. “No,” explained Ramati. All he asks for is to submit to the court the data that the witness brought as he brought it. The prosecutor had to agree. The data that was actually submitted wasn’t seen by the parties prior to its submission, and they will be able to study the details only after the printed pages will be scanned into the court’s file. The witness also couldn’t answer most questions, since the reports were produced by a statistician on behalf of the police, and he only mediated their transfer to the public.

The prosecution wins another month of detention for the poet

At the end of the Inspector’s testimony, Attorney Ramati said: “These are my witnesses”. With this ended the defense’s case. We expected that the timetable for the summaries and the verdict would be set, but the prosecutor drew a surprise. She asked to summon another witness, attorney Hussam Maw’ed, who advised Tatour in the first days after her arrest.

Waiting for the trial

Waiting for the trial to begin

Here we return to October 11, 2015. At 3:00 before dawn, a special force of the Nazareth police, accompanied by Border Police, surrounded Tatour’s house, woke up her family and took her to detention and interrogation. We learned something about the traumatic experience through the testimony of one of the policemen who interrogated Tatour on the day of her arrest. He asked her whether she was religious. When asked by the defense why he asked this question, he replied that she did not wear a headscarf while in the pictures on her Facebook page her hair was covered. She explained that the policemen who took her did not even let her finish dressing.

She described the sequel in her testimony in court. She was held in a car in the police yard while police officers passing by called her a “terrorist” and cursed her. At 5:40 am she was brought for the first interrogation but refused to answer questions before consulting a lawyer. At 9 am she was brought back for interrogation after consulting attorney Hussam Maw’ed. The investigation was conducted before the police examined the material on the computer and the phone that had been confiscated from Tatour, and the investigator charged her with many offences, most of which do not appear in the indictment that was filed later. Tatour denied all that had been attributed to her. In later interrogations, the interrogators presented Tatour with the materials they found on her computer and phone. She admitted publishing them and explained in detail her intent behind each publication.

When Tatour testified in November 2016, she was asked by the prosecutor why she “lied” during the interrogation on the first day of her arrest. She explained that in her meeting with the lawyer he told her that she was in serious trouble, that she could be sentenced to seven years in prison, and advised her to deny everything. At this stage it was not clear to the police or to Tatour what the charges against her were. It is hard to guess what the lawyer could understand at the time from the frightened and confused detainee, and what he did actually advised her. I would doubt that he would even remember, more than a year and a half later, the details of their conversation.

The prosecutor is now demanding that attorney Maw’ed will be brought as a witness on behalf of the prosecution in order to refute Tatour’s testimony regarding the advice he gave her.

Attorney Ramati was surprised by the unusual step taken by the prosecution to bring a lawyer to testify against his client. He objected sharply to summoning the witness. He requested to submit his objection in writing, even the next day, so that it could be properly explained. But the Judge told him that if he will not explain his objection now, she will oblige him to appear in the courtroom on the next morning. Finally Ramati explained that his objection was not on specific legal claims, but on an ethical basis, as bringing lawyers to testify against their clients constitutes a serious violation of the ability to maintain trust and allow honest consultation. Alternatively, Ramati requested that even if attorney Maw’ed would be brought to testify, it would be limited to what Tatour said in court regarding their consultation.

The judge approved the prosecutor’s request to summon the witness, refused to limit his testimony, and set a special session on April 27 at 12:00. This means that the trial will last for another month, as will the house detention and the denial of Tatour’s freedom.

Telling Films

We had already intended to go home when the prosecutor reminded everybody that she wanted to submit to the court three videos that were shown to the defense witness, Dr. Yoni Mendel, during cross-examination (in the previous court hearing).

What the prosecutor actually brought with her, in order to add to the evidence, was a sheet of paper with links to the YouTube videos and a burned disc with a text file containing links to allow the judge to play the videos.

Attorney Ramati fiercely objected to submitting the links to the videos and claimed that whoever uploaded the films to the site could have also changed their contents since.

Sometimes, when you can’t watch the movie itself, you can at least hear the story. In one famous example, the prisoners in the famous movie “Kiss of the Spider Woman” spent their time telling films.

In the previous trial session, the videos were presented to the witness from a laptop placed at the edge of the judge’s desk while the prosecutor and the defense attorneys were standing next to him. We as a crowd were disregarded and saw nothing. This time, through the argument about the acceptability of the films as evidence, we were rewarded with listening to a summary of the films’ stories not once but in three different versions, from the defense attorney, the prosecutor and the judge.

The version brought by the defense counsel was the most detailed. He recalled that the first two videos were presented to the witness (which was summoned as an expert translator) as a sort of spontaneous examination of his competence. All that was recorded in the protocol were fragments of translated sentences from what was written and said in the videos. Since the judge doesn’t know Arabic, it is clear that watching the videos will not help her formulate a learned opinion about his ability as a translator.

Therefore, the prosecution’s insistence on submitting the videos can only be construed as an attempt to introduce new content that will strengthen the prosecution case and bias the court against the defendant, bypassing all the due procedures for presenting evidence in a criminal trial. The videos were not neutral material for testing translation. In one video, a Palestinian man announced his intention to carry out an attack in Tel Aviv and to be a Shahid. The second video is called “the lovers of the stabbings” and shows the picture of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, who is mentioned in Tatour’s poet, among the pictures of perpetrators of attacks.

Regarding the third video, a section of it was presented to the witness and he was requested to describe what he saw. He replied that he saw stone throwing and another round of the violence from both sides. Now the defense attorney made it clear to us what the prosecutor was looking for in the video: In one scene a car was seen running over three boys. Attorney Ramati said that the video was known to him as a case in which a settler ran over Palestinian youths, but he quickly explained that his testimony on the matter, as well as the prosecutor’s opinion, can’t be accepted by the court as evidence about the content of the video. The prosecutor wanted to prove that, just as the witness did not express sufficient shock at the Palestinian violence in the video, he also ignored the (non-existent) violence in Tatour’s poetry…

The prosecutor insisted on the importance of the court watching again the videos in order to understand the context of Dr. Mendel’s testimony. She even suggested that the court should watch the films with the defense attorney at this hearing to ensure that nothing has changed since they were presented in court at the previous session. The defense refused.

The most violent version we heard, albeit in an abstract form, was the depictions of the plots that the judge told. Unfortunately, like most of the judge’s remarks, these were not recorded in the minutes. She explained to the defense attorney that if, for example, the film showed how cats’ heads were smashed, but the witness called the film “playing with cats,” this indicates the witness’s approach.

Involving the audience in the plot

In modern plays they sometimes make the audience participate in the play.

During the debate about the ability to change a YouTube video after it was published, the prosecutor claimed to know for sure that a published film can’t be changed without changing its link. The defense attorney explained that he thinks differently, but added that he is not an expert, just as the prosecutor can’t testify as an expert on the subject. I passed him a note saying that I have a YouTube channel and that I usually edit films after they are published. He suggested bringing on the spot a witness with experience in publishing and editing videos on YouTube.

Finally, the judge decided that, since she can’t decide the factual question of whether it is possible to edit videos after they are posted on YouTube, she will not accept the links at this stage. It was the first victory in the Sisyphean struggle of the defense in a trial in which the prosecution had already crossed many red lines and reached delusional realms.

 

Poetry is poetry, and is immune to prosecution

By Ofra Yeshua-Lyth – Originally appeared in HaOketz in Hebrew on March 21, 2017

Translated by Idan Kramarge Bar-Haim

Professor Nissim Calderon testified in the show trial of poet Dareen Tatour: “In the Israeli tradition there is immunity to a poet who calls for illegal violence”; in Hanukkah we sing “As you shall prepare a massacre / of a barking foe”; in both the Tsarist regime and the mandate police poets who called for violence were not prosecuted, and no one prosecuted Ariel Zilber for supporting the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

Arabic expert Dr. Yoni Mendel: “Tatour’s poem does not call for violence; the police translation is simplistic, not objective, and is meant to prove the poet supports violence”.

On March 19, 2017, the absurd show trial “The state of Israel against poet Dareen Tatour” has reached the defense witnesses stage. Two expert professors made all the way from the center of the country to explain to the prosecutor Alina Hardak and Judge Adi Bambiliya in the Nazareth court why the indictment that took away Tatour’s freedom since October 2015 is essentially baseless.Poetry is not a crime - Dareen Tatour

Literature professor Nissim Calderon wrote in his expert opinion that there is no place to incriminate any poet for a text he or she wrote, even if it was packed with harsh expressions.  Tsarist Russia, as well as the British mandate, and so far even  the state of Israel, left poets alone  also when their poems could be seen as a call or support for violence. Dr. Yonatan Mendel, an expert on the Arabic language with rich experience in translation, who stands at the head of the Van Leer institute for Jewish-Arab relations, determined in the document he presented that the poem an Israeli policeman decided is an “Incitement to violence” is actually an impassioned national poem, by the best tradition of the local language, without any call for taking arms or spilling blood.

The mills of justice grind slowly: The two distinguished academics, together with defense lawyers Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati, the accused poet, her family and supporters, had to wait three hours in the ornate halls of the enormous courthouse, in a sort of forced hunger strike. The cafeteria had been closed many months ago, and there is not even a water cooler, not to mention a coffee machine – a winning combination of the fails of the Israeli legal system and the disregard for the “periphery”. The session, scheduled for 11:30 in the morning, started at 2:30 in the afternoon, and continued until 20:30 in the evening. The entire meeting was dedicated to the counter-interrogation of the two professionals about the reasoned expert opinions they supplied, each in his field of academic research. The prosecutor spared no efforts in her attempt to denounce their integrity.

“According to you, is every person who wrote a poem or a collection of poems is a poet who has the right to privileges over other people?” she asked professor Calderon. He replied positively and stated that if a text is written as poetry then “It is entitled to all rights we give to poetry in our culture, and the writer’s responsibility towards the poem is a poet’s responsibility”.

Dareen and Propf Calderon (center) & Tawfiq Tatour

Dareen Tatour and Prof Calderon (center) before the hearing

“According to you, calls for violence within a poem also deserve immunity from prosecution?”

“Not according to me, but according my information”, answered Calderon, “As Hayim Nahman Bialik [1873-1934, considered the top national-Zionist poet- O.Y.L] wrote ‘with vicious wrath your blood we shalt drink, we shalt have no mercy, and as all the nation shall arise to vengeance we shall say vengeance’, then the immunity Bialik enjoys includes sayings such as drinking the gentiles’ blood and a call for vengeance upon them. In Israeli tradition there is immunity to a poet who calls for illegal violence. In Hanukkah we sing the hymn ‘Maoz Tsur Yeshuati’- ‘When you shall make a massacre / from your barking foe…’ We call in Hanukkah to massacre our enemies.”

The prosecutor pointed out that Tatour’s poem was read in Facebook over a video as background, but Calderon made clear that this fact is irrelevant: “I come from a literary and lyrical tradition that is well familiar with poems published in a variety of contexts, printed and filmed. Poetry is poetry. The video tradition is relatively new but the tradition of poetry in context has a long history. Would you question a poem by Uri Tsvi Greenberg [1896-1981, highly acclaimed poet and right-wing activist] in which he specifically mentions the words The Thugs Alliance [“Brit Habiryonim”], while he was explicitly a member of the Thugs Alliance organization which called for illegal actions against the British government in the country?” Uri Tsvi Greenberg, the witness mentioned, was never a target of the British mandate police despite his blunt texts which were the inspiration for underground movements that took violent actions against the mandate regime. Just like the Russian Tsar regime which did not see fit to act against Haim Nahman Bialik despite his call for violent revenge.

“You do not presume to present yourself as an objective witness,” the prosecutor snapped at the professor, who was quick to agree: “There is no objective witness in literature, no court for literary works, their meaning and value.” He confirmed that he expressed his opinion about Tatour’s trial in an event called “Poetry in the shadow of terrorism” which was held by the Author’s Association, and that loud arguments rose during this occasion. “Arguments inside the literary community are natural”, he pointed out. Hardak claimed that Calderon relied solely on classics from the distant past and did not bring into his opinion current examples. “If we embrace you position, then where we are today, any person under the disguise of a poet could publish anything he wishes to, even if it would otherwise be a criminal offense!”, scowled the prosecutor.

“Yes,” said the professor calmly, “Ariel Zilber [contemporary popular song writer] published songs which supported the murder of [Israeli PM] Rabin. No one prosecuted him and he should not be prosecuted. His immunity was supported by all the literary community.”

The prosecutor took great efforts to present the second witness, Dr. Mendel, as “not objective” too. She presented as “incriminating” evidence an article he wrote in the past in which he interpreted the Hamas movement as a political organization, not as a terrorist organization. (In the re-interrogation Mendel made clear that this definition comes not from his “feverish mind” but repeated the statements of the American general Collin Powell and the former head of the Mosad, Efraim Halevi). Mendel also confirmed he wrote an article about the completely false interpretation of Israelis to the word “shahid”, which should be translated to “martyr” or “victim”, while Hebrew speakers automatically identify it with terrorism.

The Palestinians, say Mendel, refer to shahids “More as victims and less as aggressors. A shahid is not only someone who performed an act of terrorism but also a person with cancer who dies at an army checkpoint. Most of those who are called shahid are civilians who did not go to offend Israelis. If in “Protective Edge” or “Cast Lead” [Israeli military operations against Gaza] about 2000 people were killed in the Gaza Strip, for the Palestinians they are all shahids, fighters and civilians alike.”

Waiting for trial Dareen and Mendel

Waiting for the hearing – Dr Mendel first from the left

As for the poem Dareen Tatour wrote, the witness made clear, all victims she speaks of in the poem are civilians. “When I look at the names of the victims she refers to in the poem, the child who was burned is probably Muhammad Abu Khdeir; Ali is Ali Dawabsheh; Also Hadeel was a very extreme case, Haaretz newspaper called it an execution” (Hadeel al-Hashlamoun was shot in Hebron by a soldier who suspected – mistakenly according to all testimonies – that she came to perform a terror attack).

At this point the prosecutor took out videos in which suicide bombers were presented as shahids, while trying to convince the witness that Dareen Tatour also meant to glorify suicide bombers when she mentioned shahids. It took three hours of exhaustion at the witness box and with video after video presented to the witness with no change in the testimony and finally the advocate complained that the prosecutor treats Dr. Mendel as an accused. Hardak indeed kept calling Mendel “”not objective” and he kept to his answer that “When you come to talk about the political reality, there is no person without opinions”. He also added that by his own professional analysis a truly not objective action was taken by whoever decided to prosecute Dareen on the basis of a biased, incriminating translation: “My translation is loyal to the truth, objective, connected to the spirit of the original text and was not written with intent to incriminate. To my mind, in every node in which a certain interpretation could be chosen, a decision was taken to translate her meaning as violent, and that is what lacks objectivity”. Later during the questioning Mendel added: “The police translation is very simplistic, inaccurate, and its intent was to prove that the writer supports violent actions”.

The prosecutor still kept on presenting videos. What does he see in the videos? The witness was asked. “In the video I saw the West Bank, territory outside the Green Line, which has not been annexed to Israel and by my understanding it presents soldiers who confront Palestinians”. At another point he mentioned that in the West Bank “There is a very complex situation in which the soldiers are seen as an occupying force and the demolition of a home is conceived by the Palestinians as an act of violence”.

“Stone throwing or Molotov cocktails are terrorism”, claimed the prosecutor. Mendel replied: “The conflict should be solved without violence. I’m against violence. In a situation where one side shoots and the other throw a stone, there are acts of violence on both sides”. He responded with irony to the definition of stone throwing as a disruption of order: “Someone has to ask oneself: if the stone disrupts the order – then what is the order? The perpetuation of the situation is which Israel occupies the West Bank. Stones’ throwing is a reaction to stormy conditions”.

The Judge decreed that the defense will terminate its case in the next session that she set for March 28. Tatour’s lawyers summoned police officer Yaniv Hami and announced that there might be still another witness for the defense. They requested to present the defense summaries in writing.