A poet in the dock as Israel hunts 'lone wolf' assailants online

REINEH, Israel (Reuters) - A week after Dareen Tatour posted a poem on Facebook entitled “Resist, my people, resist,” Israeli police came to her home in the middle of the night and arrested her.

Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour, 35, poses for a picture during an interview with Reuters at her house in Reineh, northern Israel September 26, 2017. Picture taken September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The Arab-Israeli poet will hear next Monday whether she will be jailed on charges of incitement to violence and supporting a terrorist group. The average sentence in similar cases is nine months, though the maximum term she could face is five years.

Israeli prosecutors say Tatour, 35, issued a call to violence by reading her poem as a soundtrack to a video she posted on Facebook and YouTube, showing masked Palestinian youths throwing stones and fire-bombs at Israeli soldiers.

Posted as a wave of Palestinian street attacks began in the region, it reads: “Resist, my people, resist them /Resist the settlers’ robbery/ And follow the caravan of martyrs.”

“They didn’t understand my poem,” Tatour told Reuters in an interview at her home in Reineh in northern Israel, where she is under house arrest. “There is no call for violence. There is a struggle, they cast it as violent.”

“The point of the poem was to say ‘enough’. A person feels for their people. I am of the Palestinian people. I live this struggle and I spoke it through the poem,” she said.

Tatour’s case has become a cause celebrate for freedom of speech advocates. It has also drawn attention to advanced technology used by Israeli security agencies to trawl through social media to identify and arrest users suspected of incitement to violence or planning attacks.

Critics say the practise is flawed because people have been detained purely on the basis that they may commit a crime, without having done so. Israel rejects the criticism, saying security concerns are paramount.

Some Western intelligences agencies use similar predictive policing methods to identify individuals of interest but experts say Israel seems unique in using them as a basis for detention.


Since October 2015, 51 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian stabbing, shootings and car-rammings. Palestinian leaders say the assailants are reacting to Israel’s occupation of territories Palestinians want for a state.

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Some 270 Palestinians have also been killed in the past two years. Israel says at least 180 of those were killed carrying out attacks, nearly all “lone wolf” assailants, while others were killed in clashes.

“Online incitement is the fuel igniting the terrorists in this wave of violence,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told a Tel Aviv University cyber conference in June.

Israeli prosecutors say Tatour is also implicated by other posts than the poem that appeared on Oct. 3, 2015.

“The attempt to present her as an artist, a poet, who merely wrote something innocent distorts the truth,” a Justice Ministry official said.

An expert on Arabic translation told her trial that ‘Martyr’ to an Israeli means a terrorist. To a Palestinian it means victim -- any Palestinian killed in the conflict with Israel, as a bystander or assailant.

Indictments for online incitement -- most of those charged are young Palestinians -- have tripled in Israel since 2014, the Justice Ministry says.

In the occupied West Bank, prosecutions by Israel’s military have also increased, according to a report by the Military Advocate General. A report in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said there were 170 indictments in 2016.

A senior officer in the Israeli military said arrests for incitement require judicial approval, as they do inside Israel.


Many lone assailants post farewell messages before setting off. To “intercept” them, and prevent attacks, Israeli security forces comb through social networks using big data analytics -- sophisticated software that analyses vast volumes of data.

Algorithms are used so that certain words, such as “martyr”, raise a red flag, as do names of anyone who has launched an attack, a security source said.

Shin Bet intelligence agency chief Nadav Argaman says 2,000 potential “lone wolves” have been stopped by using advanced technology since 2016. A Shin Bet source said some potential attackers were arrested and prosecuted, and others just warned.

Some suspects, the source said, were placed in administrative detention, under which Israel holds Palestinians without trial. Israel says that is necessary to prevent violence in cases where there is insufficient evidence to prosecute.

Asked about Israel’s policy, Facebook said public posts can be read by anyone, including law enforcement and intelligence agency officers. Google, which owns YouTube, declined comment.

Others accused of online incitement include 16-year-old Tamara Abu-Laban was detained in East Jerusalem in July. Her father Moammar said she had shared a video online showing an elderly man arguing with Israeli security forces and, in a reference to the mosque that is Islam’s third holiest shrine, saying: “Kill me, I want to die for al-Aqsa”.

She has not been charged but was held for two days and barred from using Facebook for 180 days. Her father said the Shin Bet called him in to say they were keeping an eye on her.

“They are convinced she is going to do something. They told me to be careful. I tried to tell them it’s just Facebook - she’s just looking for ‘Likes’,” he said.

Police did not comment on her case because she is a minor.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage