Rasmea Odeh, Pillar of Chicago Palestinian Community Unjustly Prosecuted
In October 2013, federal agents began the political prosecution of a pillar in the Palestinian community in Chicago. The prosecution is designed to intimidate and silence Palestine activists in the U.S. As commentator Josh Rubner described it, “the Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh at her home after the Department of Justice dusted off her 10-year-old naturalization application to charge her with ‘unlawful procurement of naturalization’ for allegedly omitting mention of her time in Israeli prison.” This was despite “the fact that Odeh has been quite frank in her public retelling of the torture she faced during her time in Israeli prisons.”
Odeh was arrested, tortured, sexually assaulted, and imprisoned by Israel in 1969 for a terrorist act she maintains she did not commit. After ten years, she was released in a prisoner exchange. Since 1994 she has lived in the United States; she is now a citizen and has gained widespread respect and recognition for her work as a civil liberties advocate and an organizer in the Arab American community.
Communities across the country quickly mobilized for Rasmea’s defense. Palestine Legal issued a statement with over sixty other rights groups opposing Odeh’s indictment.
In August, 2014, the Detroit federal district court judge appointed to her case, who has strong ties to Israel and is a lifelong Zionist activist, recused himself after a defense motion exposed his potential for bias, and the judge himself revealed that he had relationships that might taint his impartiality. The new judge denied her motion to dismiss arguing that the indictment was connected to wider efforts to target politically active Palestine solidarity activists, and specifically raids and Grand Jury subpoenas of 23 Midwest activists in 2010 that included Odeh’s colleague. Prosecutors attempted to empanel an anonymous jury, a rare move that would have seriously prejudiced Odeh’s defense, which the new judge denied. But other pretrial rulings worked to gut her defense. One week before her trial, the judge ruled that Odeh and her attorneys could not make any mention of her torture during the trial, while allowing dozens of documents from the Israeli military court into court. The torture expert who would have testified to Odeh’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was also barred from court.
Odeh was convicted by a jury after a four-day trial during which she was barred from talking about her torture at the hands of the Israelis, while the prosecution repeatedly referred to her conviction in Israel for bombings that killed people. Odeh was taken into custody the same day, and remained in a Detroit county jail for nearly a month until the judge granted a motion to reinstate her bond, recognizing that her ties to her Chicago community meant she was not in fact a flight risk. Palestine Legal, a member of the Rasmea Defense Committee, co-signed a letter to the judge with the National Lawyers Guild and other organizations supporting the defense’s request that the judge reconsider his denial of bond pending her sentencing in March, 2015.
Odeh faces a sentence of up to ten years and almost certain denaturalization and deportation at her sentencing in March 2015.
- Palestine Legal and other Rights Group’s Statement
- Op-eds by Palestine Legal Director Dima Khalidi in Huffington Post and the Hill