Karin Friedemann is a TMO columnist. Her opinions are her own.
“When she was 21, in 1969, Rasmea Odeh was arrested in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers at her home, and for twenty-five days her interrogators tortured her,” Charlotte Silver reports in the Nation. “She was beaten from head to toe with sticks and metal bars; her body, including genitalia and breasts, was subjected to electric shocks after she was forced to watch a male prisoner tortured to death in this very way. All the while, she was told she would die if she did not confess. But it was not until they brought in her father, threatening to force him to rape her, that she agreed to sign a confession stating that she had helped orchestrate two explosions in West Jerusalem that killed two civilians. Even then, her torturers raped her with a thick wooden stick.
“Standing before a military court less than one month later, Odeh renounced the confession. But the panel of judges ignored that, and Odeh was sentenced to ten years plus life in prison. Ten years later, she was released in a prisoner exchange, along with seventy-five other Palestinians.”
45 years later on October 22, 2013, Odeh, 67, was arrested by Homeland Security at her suburban Chicago home. She was accused in federal court later that day of responding incorrectly to a question on her naturalization application ten years ago. In front of a courtroom packed full of supporters on November 10, after just two hours of deliberation, the jury declared Odeh guilty of “unlawful procurement of citizenship.”
The case against Odeh centers on her failure to disclose on her US immigration papers her 1969 conviction in an Israeli military court. The US Judge Gershwin Drain absolutely refused to allow the jury to hear Odeh mention the circumstances of her false conviction by torture. Odeh insisted that she’d always believed questions she’s been accused of answering falsely were asking about her time in the US, not Palestine.
“If I knew it was about Israel, I would have said, “ Odeh explained. “It’s not a secret that I’ve been in jail. Even the embassy knows.” The US embassy in Israel became involved in the initial arrests because her father was a US citizen.
Odeh was then detained as a “flight risk” awaiting sentencing to take place on March 10, 2015. Her attorneys refuted the government attorneys’ assertions that she was a flight risk. Odeh rejected a plea deal that would have seen her deported without serving jail time. She chose to fight to remain in the US where she has strong community ties.
University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) professor Nadine Naber, who first met Rasmea back in 2006, testified to Rasmea’s work changing the lives of hundreds of Arab immigrant women by creating a collective space for them. She testified about Rasmea’s character, a truthful person and community mentor.
Judge Drain told Odeh she would not be allowed to speak about her Israeli torture experience, stating he did not want to “retry the case” of 1969.
“It’s my life. I have a right to talk about the things that happened to me!” she responded.
The judge restated that testimony referring to torture or her forced confession was inadmissible. Rasmea nevertheless delivered a heartfelt testimony to the court, detailing her family’s history through the Catastrophe of 1948, the 1967 war, and the 1969 raid on her home. But when Odeh told the court that she spent 45 days in an “interrogation center, prosecutor Jonathan Tukel objected. Judge Drain sustained the objection.
Defense attorney Deutsch asked her if she was convicted.
She answered, “They convicted me falsely.”
The government objected and the judge sustained the objection. Judge Drain barred Rasmea from using post-traumatic stress disorder as a defense.
Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) told the Electronic Intifada, “This was not a full or fair trial.”
“Palestinian people around the world are doing effective work; we’re getting stronger and stronger and Israel is on the ropes. And when Israel is on the ropes, the US government cracks down,” he added.
This horrifying, targeted federal prosecution seems to be linked to a federal investigation of Chicago area Palestinian and Colombian human rights activists led by Assistant US Attorney Barry Jonas in 2010, in which the FBI conducted simultaneous raids on the homes of seven community members in the Chicago area, seizing their computers with search warrants that stated they were looking for hints of “material support for terrorism.” Twenty-three other activists were subpoenaed by grand jury, as well as a subpoena of AAAN records.
Jonas, who also prosecuted the secret government case against the Holy Land Foundation, was seen actively consulting with the assistant US attorney that presented the case against Odeh, reported the Detroit Free Press in an article written by former political prisoner, Angela Davis.
“As a person with first-hand knowledge of the devastation wrought by politically motivated prosecutions — during the era of COINTELPRO, I was falsely charged with three capital offenses — I see Rasmea Odeh’s case as a continuation of the embarrassing history of decades of suppression of social justice activists in the U.S.
The courts are being used to retaliate against Palestinian activism,” wrote Davis.
Odeh told her tear-filled supporters that filled the courtroom: “I don’t want to be weak in this situation. I am strong and I ask you all to be strong.”