Israel’s latest “threat” comes in the form of words. Poems, to be precise. Yes, poems. Last Thursday, Israel’s so-called Defence Minister — Avigdor Lieberman — a colonist who hails from Moldavia — compared the poetry of Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish to the writings of Hilter. Yes, Hitler. This declaration came on the heels of the Israeli Army’s propaganda radio airing a programme on Darwish, an internationally acclaimed poet.
Darwish, who died in 2008, gave voice to the voiceless, with Darwish’s poetry first making an entrance as Palestinians were still gathering their words, shocked into silence from the horror of the Nakba and their eviction from their homeland.
Darwish continued to give voice as millions languished in refugee camps, stateless and longing to come home; he did so when those Palestinians who remained in Palestine were transformed into second-class citizens in their own homeland and Darwish continued to give voice when the world’s silence at Israel’s repeated atrocities became deafening for Palestinians.
We should not be surprised by Lieberman’s position. Here is a man who emigrated to a country not his own in the belief that he had a superior right to live on the land instead of its original inhabitants. This is, after all, the man who called for Palestinians in Israel to be beheaded for not being loyal to a state and system that seeks their elimination and who believes that Palestinian political prisoners should be drowned. But this position on words is not simply that of Lieberman’s. It is the entire Israeli governing establishment that fears the power of words, including the Knesset.
Whether Samih Al Qasim, Tawfiq Zayyad or Darwish, Israel has a long history of imprisoning Palestinian poets and writers. Their latest victim is 33-year-old Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who was imprisoned for writing a poem titled Resist My People. Resist Them. She faces up to four years’ imprisonment on charges of incitement to terror.
Dareen’s story is not unique. She is one of scores of Palestinians, including children, arrested by Israel for speaking out and for writing status updates on Facebook and Twitter. And now, it is not merely ordinary Palestinians who can be sanctioned for speaking out, but Palestinians who are serving in the Israeli Knesset. As of this week, the Knesset— purportedly the champion of free speech in Israel — passed a law allowing for Members of the Knesset to be impeached for “incitement”. Lest there be any doubt, incitement is defined as actions or words that “negate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite racism, or express support for an armed struggle against the State of Israel by an enemy state or terrorist organisation”.
Some more equal than others
But among Israelis, there is silence, at these arrests, imprisonments, trials and new laws because for them, the privileged class, they have no fear that expressing their racism or expressing their support for mass murder will lead to any prosecution. This was demonstrated earlier this month when an Israeli TV station conducted an experiment with two citizens of Israel — one Jewish, one Palestinian. The experiment asked them to post on Facebook a status expressing support for, and calling for, the killing of the other group. The Israeli’s status was shared by many and liked by hundreds and received comments praising his post. The Palestinian, on the other hand, was asked by friends whether his account was hacked, whether he was all right and was even called by Palestinian MKs (these same people who may now face impeachment) to see why he would write such a thing. No one shared his post. The differences do not stop there: the Palestinian was questioned by the Israeli police, while the Israeli was not. Again, no outrage by Israeli politicians or the public. Just business as usual
You see in Israel, we Palestinians are supposed to endure decades of military rule, decades of ethnic cleansing, decades of denial of freedom and decades of the destruction of our culture. We are to endure watching Israel starve Gaza and when that is not fast enough, watch as it blow Gaza to pieces and transform it into a place without electricity or clean water, denied the most basic of rights.
We are not to speak out when Israel guns down Palestinian children playing on a beach, when young women are executed at checkpoints or when an Israeli soldier executes at point-blank range a motionless Palestinian man lying on the ground by shooting him in the head. But we do speak out and will continue to speak out against injustice. We will not pretend that Israel is “normal” and that Israel’s actions are “normal” — and neither should the rest of the world.
And, in the words of the late Palestinian poet, Tawfiq Zayyad, In Lidda, in Ramla, in the Galilee, “We shall remain, like a wall upon your chest, and in your throat, like a shard of glass.”
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst, former adviser to Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators and policy adviser to Al Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.