An Israeli Arab is Fined $3,100 for Poetry Praising Intifada

The magistrates court here has given an Israeli Arab an eight-month suspended sentence, fined him the equivalent of $3,100 and put him on three years’ probation for writing poetry extolling the intifada and criticizing the behavior of Israel Defense Force troops.

The penalties against Shafik Habib marked the first time in Israel that a poet was punished for the content of his poetry.

Habib’s lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, announced he would appeal.

Judge Rahamim Tsemah had no sooner passed the sentence Sunday when he was defending it against charges of suppressing free speech leveled by a prize-winning Israeli Arab author.

Emil Habibi, who was selected to receive the 1992 Israel Prize for his contributions to Arabic literature, was in court along with family and friends of the accused and a handful of other Israeli Arab poets, who came to demonstrate solidarity with him.

Habibi begged the court to “help me” accept Israel’s most prestigious award, which is to be presented on Independence Day next week.

He said he is under severe attack from his own people for agreeing to accept a literary prize as an Arab poet is sentenced for his poetry.

The judge replied that the defendant had abused the freedom of speech granted Israelis “without any limitation” and at best misinterpreted the liberty.

In fact, the judge considered himself lenient for suspending the prison portion of the sentence.

Habibi suggested that the defendant receive a symbolic fine of one shekel. He recalled a military trial in 1957 at which an IDF officer who killed 49 Arab civilians in the Kafr Kasim village massacre was fined a symbolic 1 piastr, predecessor of the agorah, valued at less than one cent.

The author said that he would join the appeal. He will also accept the Israel Prize, which will be presented by President Chaim Herzog.

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