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.

 

The poet’s trial: The battle of the narrative

The following article was published in Hebrew in Siha Mekomit (Local Call) and Haifa Ha-Hofshit.

Translated by Idan Kramarge Bar-Haim

An additional session for hearing the defense’s witnesses was scheduled for Sunday 19.3 at 11:30 am. At the scheduled time we gathered at the 3rd floor of the Nazareth court – Dareen Tatour, her father Tawfiq, the lawyers Gaby Lasky and Nery Ramati and about ten of the poet’s supporters. In the same time, more groups of prosecutors, lawyers and clients whose hearings were scheduled for the morning assembled at judge Adi Bambiliya-Einstein’s door. Since our hearing was expected to be long it was postponed until after all others are finished and only started around 14:30.

Is it acceptable to arrest poets?

The first witness of the defense was Professor Nissim Calderon, an expert on the study of Hebrew poetry. In his statement he gave examples of poems which contain a call for violent resistance against different governments and explained that in all those cases no legal procedure was taken against the poets. He especially mentioned poems published by Bialik and Tchernichovsky in tsarist Russia and Uri Tsvi-Greenberg’s poems written during the British occupation (“mandate”) in Palestine.

Dareen and friends waiting for trial March 19

Waiting three hours for the trial to begin – Nazareth court, March 19

Most of the statement can be summarized by the following quote form it: “The same tradition distinguished well between a poem’s reaction and a common person’s reaction. The extremism, refusal for compromise, and violence were perceived by readers, critics, and also by the government, as immune to legal prosecution. That is because a poet’s extreme writing was seen as his right, and duty, for a very intense and emotional expression, and also answers to the aesthetic requirements of artistic writing. No one has mistaken very erotic love poems for an indecent act of public nudity, and no one has mistaken very extreme revenge poems for an illegal call to actual violence.”

In the counter-interrogation, the prosecutor attempted to attack the statement from every possible direction. Is the privilege of freedom of speech in poetry given to every poet, even a novice? Even for someone who only wrote a single poem? And how does he determine that Tatour is a poet and her writing is a poem? Professor Calderon was not confused and repeatedly clarified his principle position for the wide freedom of speech that should be given to poets. He started reading segments of Tatour’s poem as it appears in the indictment to prove by the rhythm and style that it is indeed a poem, and eventually mentioned that in the indictment itself the accusation is the publication of a poem. In her attempt to dispute Tatour being defined as a poet the prosecutor “forgot” claims she herself has stated in earlier sessions that Tatour is “dangerous” because she is a poet, and as one has influence on the public.

Lawyer Gaby Lasky

Lawyer Gaby Lasky – all the objections were refused

I think the strongest point of Calderon’s position was the comparison to the dark regime of the Tsar in Russia and the British mandate which did not pretend to be democratic regimes. Despite that, those regimes did not see fit to arrest poets who expressed themselves in a more radical way than the expressions in Tatour’s indictment. He also mentioned that Uri Tsvi-Greenberg was not arrested for his poems even when he called for violent resistance to the British mandate while Britain was at war against Nazi Germany.

At the end of the statement, to show that the case is not poems designated only for elitist literary classes, professor Calderon quotes from the poem “Maoz Tsur Yeshuati” the part “when you shall make a massacre / from your barking foe”, and explains: “Every year Jews sing with their children about their enemies, calling them barking dogs, and saying that they should be slaughtered. And it is legitimate that they sing, as they have a dark record with their oppressors, and they know that a poem about a massacre is not a massacre”.

I, as someone who in the past caused chaos in a family Passover gathering because of my objection to the song “Spill your wrath upon the gentiles”, can’t identify with the justification of “Maoz Tsur”. But it is certainly not acceptable to prosecute every person who expresses such a blunt call for violence.

The best of the poem is its lie

Professor Calderon appeared as an expert on Hebrew poetry, but when he was asked about Dareen’s poem he fell in the trap of the most predictable Israeli reaction. He said that the poem calls for violent resistance, relying on the distorted translation in the indictment and the common Israeli prejudice that the term “Shuhadaa” (which in colonialist-speak is distorted to “shahidim”) refers to those who perform acts of terrorism.

He was even asked if the poem could lead to actual violence. The advocates objected: It is the regular practice in Israeli courts that the expertise required to determine the danger of a certain statement and the likelihood that it will lead to violence is reserved to the “professionals” of the GSS. Since the prosecution did not bother bringing an expert witness to verify the danger of the poem, they cannot close that gap with an expert on Hebrew poetry. The judge allowed the question, and professor Calderon said confidently that the poem could lead to violence, but it should not matter to the principle that the poet should not be prosecuted for writing it. Tatour should be treated the same as Bialik, and Israel should not be less democratic than the Russian Tsar.

The second and main witness in the hearing was Dr. Yoni Mendel, a researcher of the Arabic language in its social contexts, who works in translating Arabic literature to Hebrew and is an expert on the role of the Arabic language in the relations between Jews and Arabs in the country. The statement he presented to the court, at the defense’s request, included a translation of the poem that is the subject of the indictment to Hebrew, criticism of the police translation and many comments to explain the world of Palestinian content that stands behind the short lines of the poem.

One significant difference between the police translation and the version Mandel presented was, of course, the line about the shuhadaa: the policeman translated “and you shall follow convoy of shahidim” (just distorting the Arabic word, not translating it to Hebrew) while Mendel wrote “and you shall follow the convoy of martyrs”. In the explanation he refers in details to the Israeli practice of not translating the word “shahid” to the exact term, “martyr” (“Halal” in Hebrew), while creating a deformed term around which were built negative Hebrew contexts which are not the characteristics of the Arabic term. Leaving Arab words in the translation and avoidance of using a fitting Hebrew word also helps to alienate and to prevent the acceptance of the text in its general human context.

Yoni Mendel waiting to testify March 19

Dr. Mendel waiting to give evidence in Nazareth court, March 19, 2017

Another segment, in which the exact translation is actually the opposite of the police translation, is in the lines: “Fear not the tongues of the Merkava tank / for the truth in your heart is stronger / it is strong as long as you rise in the motherland / a motherland that knew attacks but is not exhausted”. In the police translation, instead of the last two lines, appear the lines: “As long as you resist in the motherland / Long live the ghazawat and may they not tire”. The reversal of meaning in this sentence summarizes that which exists in the entire text – while the text is written from the viewpoint of the victim of the attacks, who resists them out of the desire for truth and justice, the distorted police translation attributes to the writer the call “long live the ghazawat”- once again keeping the Arabic word, which the translating policeman explained in his testimony as relating to the invasions of Arab tribes for robbery in the Jahiliyyah days before Islam.

It can be argued whether or not a poem could have an exact translation. I think the strongest argument of the defense in a trial that revolves around a poem is that any translation of a poem, and even reading the poem in the original language, is necessarily a subjective interpretation. It is hard to see how the understanding of a poem could be “beyond all reasonable doubt” as required in criminal law. In any case, Dr. Mendel made an honest attempt to understand the words of the poet, in the context of Palestinian concepts, based on his expertise in the subject matter in the political and social context. That is the opposite of the policeman translator, who not only lacked the skills required for professional translation but also added a deliberate twist to the phrasing in order to achieve his incriminating goal.

A very contrary interrogation

At the beginning of the investigation we enjoyed a comic relief when the prosecutor asked Dr. Mendel, casually: “I suppose you are used to giving professional opinions and that you were paid for this opinion?” to which he answered: “I didn’t get any payment, should I have asked for it?” He made it clear that he does not know the defendant and never met her, and that he agreed to a request to give an objective opinion in court free of charge. That is the first time he appears as an expert witness in court.

The prosecutor understood that Mendel’s testimony was very important in establishing the explanations of the defense for the poem, and did everything to undermine his credibility. She presented opinion articles he wrote in Haaretz newspaper in 2012 with the title “Great experts on Arabs” and in 2014 with the title “Hamas – Is there really no one to talk to?” quoted parts out of context and attacked the political views of the witness. The defense lawyers requested the judge to limit the counter interrogation to questions referring to the subject of the trial and the expertise of the witness as a translator, but the judge rejected all objections on their side and allowed the counter interrogation to go on for almost five hours.

A large part of the counter interrogation revolved around one line of the poem, the one referring to the martyrs, the “shuhadaa” (plural of “shahid”). Mandel explained time and again that the Arabic Palestinian context of the word Shahid is different than the Israeli image created around it. While the Israeli see the Arab first of all as the aggressor who uses out-of-context violence, the Palestinians see themselves as victims of dispossession and occupation, and even if there is popular uprising it is mostly a reaction to the violence of the occupation. If you say the word “Shahid”, an Israeli first thinks of a suicide bomber who explodes on a bus, while a Palestinian first thinks of a woman with cancer who dies because she was not allowed to pass an army checkpoint.

Mendel strengthened his interpretation of the translation of shuhadaa as referring to victims in the full context of the poem, in which all the martyrs mentioned are victims: Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, a child from Jerusalem who was kidnapped and burned alive, Baby Ali Dawabsheh who was burned with his parents in his home in Duma, and Hadeel al-Hashlamoun who was shot at an army checkpoint in Al-Khalil.

The prosecutor tried to prove that those are not the people the poet refers to while saying “follow them” because no one would want to be murdered as they were. Mendel solved the paradox in a reverse way: The call to follow them does not mean wanting to die, but the will to remember and not abandon the victims, embrace the Palestinian bereaved families and object to an agreement which will not include the assurance of the rights of the Palestinians.

Near the end, after hours of exhaustion, the prosecutor presented Dr. Mendel with three videos from YouTube which show violence or calls for violent attacks by Palestinians (we as an audience did not actually see what they contained) and demanded him to translate them to the court. The witness translated parts of the videos while the prosecutor rebukes him: “You say you’re an expert on translation?” Since neither the prosecutor nor the judge could understand the content in Arabic, it is hard to see how such a trial could actually be designed to test the expertise of the witness in translation.

At a certain point, the prosecutor presented the witness a part of a video and requested him to describe what he sees. He wearily answered he saw another scene of the unending violence of both sides. It appeared that as far as the prosecutor was concerned, he failed the test for not rushing to be abhorred by the Palestinian violence.

Eventually, it seemed the actual intention of the videos was revealed: the prosecutor asked to add the videos that were presented to the witness as part of the evidence in the court case. By those videos, the prosecutor tries to set the Israeli narrative, just as the witness explained it, showing the Palestinians as aggressive attackers out of context, and to addict the court to “terrorism snuff”. The advocates objected to adding the videos and argued that the fact the videos were presented to the witness does not make them in any way a part of the evidence. The legal argument turned into a battle of insults and shouts, and eventually the judge announced the discussion of the validity of the videos will take place in the next session.

At 20:15, an exhausting day of waiting and hearings finally came to an end.

Haifa Poetry Night in Solidarity with Dareen Tatour

Many Palestinians are arrested and held for long periods in Israeli prisons just for expressing their views, especially if those views happen to be opposed to the Israeli occupation and racist regime. Israeli police and Shabak (the secret services) supervise all social media and especially Facebook. One girl from Akka published a status supporting the Intifada at about 2:00 am and had the police knocking at her door before 4:00 am the same night.

No wonder that the detention of Dareen Tatour before dawn on October 11, 2015, didn’t get special attention. But Dareen happened to be a poet. At the center of her indictment stands a poem that she is accused of posting in youtube, titled “resist my people, resist them”. (As a result of Dareen’s trial this poem was later translated to English). A Hebrew translation of the poem, made by a policeman with no qualification for translating or explaining literature, is fully cited in the indictment document itself.

So it was a good opportunity to call for poets and other writers to get involved and expose Israel’s complete disregard to Palestinian human rights and freedom of expression.

Poetry Night in Haifa Al-Ghad

Herak Haifa, a local activist group, is used to organize solidarity with political prisoners. Usually it will call a vigil or a demonstration in the city’s main streets. But this time we thought to emphasize the persecution of Palestinian arts – by calling for an artistic event.Picture_from_Haifa_poetry_night_for_Dareen

The Haifa Al-Ghad club is located in the middle of Wadi Nisnas, the only Arab neighborhood that mostly survived the 1948 ethnic cleansing and later systematic destruction of the Arab city. It was the Ghetto in which all the remaining Arabs in Haifa were concentrated. Now it is the center of the city for the growing again Arab population. The bare stone walls create arches and form a space well adjusted for an event emphasizing Palestinian identity.

On Thursday night, May 5, 2016, some 40 people gathered in the club, including five young Palestinian poets, Dareen’s father and some relatives and friends, local activists and poetry lovers. Dareen was very happy to hear about the even but she couldn’t attend – she is not allowed to leave the small house in a suburb of Tel Aviv where she is under house detention.

The program

The evening was opened by Muhannad Abu Ghosh, welcoming the guests in the name of the Herak. He spoke about the importance of speaking up and defending the voice of the Palestinian struggle for national and social liberation – against the occupation and against internal pressures within the Palestinian society.

The first speaker was Tawfik Tatour, Dareen’s father. He described the harsh experience of the family from the moment that the police and “border guards” raided their house before dawn. He described the prolonged persecution of Dareen in the courts and different Israeli prisons and the harsh conditions imposed on her today. He praised the solidarity campaign and the encouragement it provides Dareen and her family in their daunting experience.

The magic started when the turn came to the poets. There were 5 of them, each with his special style, reading some known poems and some new ones that were never published before. But they all formed one consistent agenda – combining the national, the social and the personal in one quest for freedom and justice, liberty and love. Some poems related to the experiences of Palestinians in the racist Israeli society, others unreservedly exposed weaknesses of the Palestinian society. They proved that the associative expressive force of poetry may go beyond many political lectures and essays. The audience was electrified.

Hazar Yousef started the poetry reading with her poem called “Gaza – the city of love forbidden from broadcasting”. It relates to the suffering of this city’s people under siege and as victims of constant wars. She continued with a more personal song named “your heart”.

Second was Mahmoud Abu-‘Arisha, reading four shorter texts: “I don’t see your hands”, another poem with a title in Hebrew (but words in Arabic) describing his feelings at Israel’s “Independence day”, “God’s laugh” and “Fluffy Feathers”.

Tarek Khatib was third, but I don’t have a list of his poems. Hopefully I will get them later. ‘Alaa mhana came forth, reading section from a new poetry book that he is expected to publish soon.

Last was Ali Mawasi, who volunteered to do double role. First he read several poems from Dareen Tatour’s book “the last invasion”. Later he read two of his own poems, “Haifa” and “Roles”, which he dedicated to “the stones’ kids”.

A video of the whole event is expected to be published soon.

One of the enthusiastic audience finally commented: “We should really appreciate the bravery of these poets. Judging by the experience of Dareen they might fear to speak up. Reading such poetry may put you in prison for years.”

Sometimes the best defense is to show that nothing will deter you and you will go on speaking your mind.