Yonatan Gher
Director, Amnesty International Israel
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Two poems. Find the differences.

The security forces should not be critiquing poetry, and the poets do not belong behind bars

Poet Dareen Tatour was sentenced today to five months in prison for incitement, for a poem she published. Here is the poem:

Resist, my people, resist them
By Dareen Tatour (translation by Tariq al Haydar) from ArabLit

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.

Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who is under house arrest. (Screen capture: YouTube)

To be clear, I don’t like the poem. I don’t like it, because it reminded me of another poem I learned in school. Notice the common themes.

UNKNOWN SOLDIERS
Anthem of the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (LEHI)
by Yair (Avraham) Stern (translator unknown) from SaveIsrael

We are unknown soldiers, uniforms we have none,
In death’s shadow we march, in its terror,
Volunteering to sever to the end of our days,
Only death from our duty can us sever.

In days red with slaughter, destruction and blood,
Nights black with pain and despair,
Over village and town our flag we’ll unfurl,
Love and freedom the message ’twill bear.

Not like slaves brought to heel were we dragged to the fight,
In strange lands our life’s blood to squander,
And if we must die our people to free,
We are willing our lives to surrender.

In days red with slaughter…

With obstacles rising to block every move,
By fate cruelly sent to entrap us,
Neither enemy, prison or miserable spy
Will we ever permit to divert us.

In days red with slaughter…

Should we happen to fall in some building or street,
To be furtively buried by night,
Many thousands of others will rise in our stead
To defend and continue the fight.

In days red with slaughter…

With the tears of mothers bereaved of their young,
Sacred infant’s blood want only spilt,
We’ll cement the bricks of our bodies for walls
And our homeland will surely be built

In days red with slaughter, destruction and blood,
Nights black with pain and despair,
Over village and town our flag we’ll unfurl
Love and freedom the message ’twill bear.

Avraham Stern (Yair), one of the founders of the ‘Etzel’ undeground organization, and later founder and head of the ‘Lehi’ underground movement. (GPO 01/09/1942 – Creative Commons)

There are two conversations to be had about this poem.

The first has to do with freedom of expression and double standards. Let’s start with just the mental image of security forces sitting down to critique poetry. Now to the image of a poet behind bars. Those are bad images.

We are a nation who used to know that, but that was more to do — it seems — with Jewish poets. The fact that we don’t see how the continued occupation, and the continued repression of Palestinians within Israel, lead to the feelings expressed in Tatour’s poem, is simply a nation choosing to wear blinders.

We have a government who passes a nation-state law, creating one class of citizenship for Jews and another for everyone else, and is then totally shocked by the criticism.

The second conversation has to do with peace.

In her poem Tatour writes “Pay no mind to his agents among us who chain us with the peaceful illusion.” To me, this is a depressing concept. While I understand how decades of stagnation lead to disillusionment, I would like to think that there is a peace narrative that — unlike that of our government’s — does not serve to enhance the feeling of chains. That a sincere desire towards peace is not too late, if it is followed up with concrete and urgent action.

But in order to do that, we need to remove our blinders. We need to be able to see the other’s perspective, including that their war poems come from as painful a place as ours. And that we caused the pain.

Embed from Getty Images

About the Author
The writer is the Director of Amnesty International Israel. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Regional Communications Director of Greenpeace Mediterranean and Spokesperson for the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. Born in New York, Yonatan grew up in Jerusalem, and now lives in Jaffa with his husband and two sons.
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