May 3, 2018 / 2:00 PM / 22 days ago

Israeli court convicts Arab poet of incitement

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli court on Thursday convicted an Arab poet of online incitement to terrorism for using a poem as the soundtrack to images of Palestinians in violent confrontations with Israeli troops.

FILE PHOTO: 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. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

Dareen Tatour, 36, posted to Facebook and YouTube a video of herself reading out her poem “Resist, My People, Resist”, accompanying footage of masked Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers.

It was published in October 2015 during a wave of deadly Palestinian street attacks on Israelis. The Israeli-Arab poet was arrested a few days later, and prosecutors said her post was a call for violence.

Tatour, who denied the charges, said her poem was misunderstood by the Israeli authorities. It read: “Resist, my people, resist them /Resist the settlers’ robbery/ And follow the caravan of martyrs.”

She said there was no call for violence in the poem, rather for a struggle, which Israeli authorities had cast as violent.

The Israeli judge convicted her, delivering a 52-page verdict that went into a detailed literary analysis of the text and video, and of the Arabic word “shaheed” - which means “martyr” in English.

Language experts called by the defense as witnesses included a famous Israeli poetry professor and an expert in Arabic-Hebrew translation.

The translator told the court that “shaheed” meant different things to people on different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The Israeli hears ‘shaheed’ and sees an aggressor. The Palestinian sees a victim. That’s a big difference. One sees an attacker blowing up a bus, the other sees a child shot by soldiers,” the expert, Yonatan Mendel, told the court in March 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour, 35, laughs during an interview with Reuters at her house in Reineh, northern Israel September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

ONLINE SURVEILLANCE

Tatour’s case became a cause celebre for freedom of speech advocates in Israel. It drew attention to the advanced technology used by Israeli security agencies to trawl through social media to identify and arrest users suspected of incitement to violence, or of planning attacks.

In her ruling, the Israeli judge came down against the defense’s interpretation of Tatour’s words, pointing to a separate post in which Tatour had used “shaheed” to describe a Palestinian assailant who had stabbed a 15-year-old Israeli.

“The combination leaves no interpretation of the word ‘martyr’ other than a violent interpretation that incites to terrorism, and to follow martyr-attackers,” the verdict said.

Tatour was also charged with supporting a terrorist group. Prosecutors said she had expressed support for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad’s call for an uprising.

Tatour, who belongs to Israel’s Arab minority, comes from a village near Nazareth in northern Israel. She is expected to appeal the verdict, her lawyer said.

“I am ready for everything and do not regret anything I have done. I have done nothing wrong,” Tatour said at the Nazareth Magistrate’s court.

Israel says the wave of fatal Palestinian stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks that began in 2015 was fueled by online incitement and has launched a legal crackdown to curb it.

Indictments for online incitement have tripled in Israel since 2014. Prosecutions by the Israeli military have also increased in the occupied West Bank - most of those charged are young Palestinians.

The average sentence in incitement cases is nine months, though the maximum term that Tatour could face is five years. The court has not issued a date for her sentencing.

Additional reporting by Rami Amichay in Nazareth; Editing by Stephen Farrell/Mark Heinrich

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