NEW YORK—Ahead of upcoming hearings in the trial of poet Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who has been charged with incitement to violence and support of terrorism, PEN America calls for an even-handed examination of the language in the poetry and Facebook posts which led to her arrest, and for the charges against her to be finally dropped.

Tatour, one of some 400 Palestinians who have been arrested for posts on social media since October 2015, spent three months in detention after her arrest and has been kept under house arrest ever since. Three hearings in the case have been scheduled over the next three weeks, the first of which will be on March 19. Witnesses for the defense, including experts in translation and literature, are expected to testify.

The weight of Israel’s indictment of Tatour rests on her posting of a video with an accompanying overlaid reading of one of her poems—and the interpretation of the poem in a translation provided by an Israeli police officer. “Qawem ya sha’abi, qawemhum” is a protest poem, urging resistance to the Israeli occupation. In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Tatour said, “I am against all violence. But it is my right to ask why you [Israel] killed those you killed. There is no law in the world that prohibits me from stating my opinion.” Tatour’s defense claims that the evidence against her centers on a mistranslation of her poem. The prosecution in the past objected to Tatour bringing an alternative translation before the court, despite the fact that several alternative versions of the poem produced by qualified literary translators exist.

“If the Israeli state insists on treating Tatour’s poem as if it were a piece of evidence to be scientifically verified, then all interpretations must be objectively considered in its deliberation,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression At Risk Programs at PEN America. “As democratic governments recognize, expressing an opinion—whether in a poem, book, or Facebook post—is a protected right, as well as a complex and subjective art, both on the part of the writer, translator, and reader. Determining the accuracy of one interpretation over another is the purview of professional translators in scholarly work, not lawyers and judges in courtrooms. We believe that if this standard is met, the evidence will fall short of the charges.”

On October 3 and 4, 2015, Tatour posted a video to her YouTube and Facebook accounts with audio of her poem “Resist, My People, Resist Them” set to images of Palestinians clashing with Israeli security forces. On October 4, a Facebook status posted on her page noted that the Islamic Jihad movement had called for a “continuation of the intifada” in the West Bank. And on October 9, a photograph of Isra’a Abed, an Arab-Israeli woman who was shot by security officers in the Afula bus station, was posted on her Facebook page; the status appeared next to Tatour’s profile picture, which included the phrase “I will be the next martyr” in reference to a Palestinian youth who had been killed in 2014. Shahid, an Arabic word for martyr, is sometimes translated as those willing to commit acts of terrorism like suicide bombings; many Palestinians use the word for a different meaning, to refer to victims of Israeli state violence. On October 11, Tatour was arrested, and on November 2 she was indicted by Israeli prosecutors on two charges: incitement to violence and support for a terrorist organization, which could collectively result in an eight-year prison sentence.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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