Arresting a Poem

Over the past several years, it has become commonplace to hear people complain of the many ways that the present government is eating away at the foundations of democracy. Last week, I experienced the force of this process myself. I invited the Palestinian poet, Dareen Tatour, to read her poetry at the November Sulha gathering. To my joy, she accepted. I assured her that we would take care of her transport from Reina, north of Nazareth. She pushed aside my offer to pay her for the effort.

I became aware of Dareen Tatour through the “Ha’aretz” piece about her that appeared in the weekend section in recent weeks. Until then, she had been just another of many Palestinians, oppressed in various ways, that crossed my path in the media. The “Ha’aretz” interview explored with Dareen her trial, arrest and incarceration, both five months in prison and, for two and a half years, under home arrest. The photos and text introduced me to this person, articulate, thin and wiry, with a lovely smile shining out from under her hijab.

Unable to find a volunteer, I ended up driving the 100 miles to bring her to the event. As I drove north, the director of the event venue called me. His legal advisor had insisted that we demand that Dareen agree not to read “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” the poem at the heart of her conviction and incarceration. During her trial, other “evidence” was brought in, but the clarity of this particular poem was twisted by the prosecutor into incitement, a threat to the public’s wellbeing. And now, hours before the event, I arrived at her home, where her mother served grapefruit juice from fruit she had just picked from the tree in the garden. I found myself explaining to Dareen the position of the venue host. If she read the poem at this public event, I explained, we would all be risking prosecution. I tried to persuade her that she could still come and read other poems, and that the restriction on reading “Resist” would illustrate to the participants the obscene severity of the government’s stance.

As she considered my argument, I saw how oppressed she felt. “You are inviting me to a place where I cannot say what I feel, where I cannot read my work,” she said. She said she felt choked, smothered by the situation, and I began to see that in my fervor I was becoming, for her, another Israeli demanding that she compromise herself. I relented, accepting that I must not ask her to confront the restriction we would be imposing. She thanked me for my effort, hugged me in farewell. I left her sitting before her house, slumped, sad, and angry, and drove to the event alone.

Here is the English translation of Dareen’s poem, in full:

RESIST, MY PEOPLE, RESIST THEM

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil, they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Dareen’s poem, for me, is a screaming, painful cry for justice, a demand for the righting of wrongs. As in all good art, the depth of the poet’s fury and longing are conveyed powerfully. We have to be moved, each in our own way. When Dareen calls her people to “evict them from my land,” what does she mean, you might ask. You could make a case that Dareen was calling for the use of force against Israel’s regime. But that would be to butcher a poem, for the quotable line. Nowhere does she call for violence or revenge. Nowhere does she condone others’ violence. Dareen was sent to jail for freely expressing her passionate resistance to the status quo. For her feelings and convictions, put into words.

70 people showed up for the event, and while they understood, all were disappointed to hear of Dareen’s choice not to join us. Yet, we read her poems, in Arabic and Hebrew, and we broke into small groups where we each shared our own responses to the poems and to the situation. As in all Sulha events, Palestinians and Israelis encountered each other respectfully, intimately speaking and listening to each other. We shared a meal and afterwards we sang and danced our solidarity. While the shadow of what had happened with Dareen hung over the event, nonetheless the flame of hope that is always aroused when people engage with each other, face to face, was what we all took away. We’ll need to keep that hope burning, as a long uphill climb lies before us.

Yoav Peck is co-director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people-to-people contact.

About the Author
Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project. Born and raised in New York/New Jersey, he holds a BA from Berkeley, and an MA in organizational psychology. He made aliyah in 1973, and was a member of Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi for 15 years, and has been living in Jerusalem since '88. He has three kids, and three grandchildren.
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