Rasmea Odeh: Palestinian-American activist risks 10 years in American prison 18Nov13 November 18, 2013

20131116071006photo by Ali Abunimah

by Lien S.   -   Palestine Monitor   -   18 November 2013

On Wednesday 13 October, Rasmea Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network, appeared in court in Detroit on charges of immigration fraud. If convicted, the sixty-six years old Palestinian-American community activist faces a potential prison sentence of ten years and deportation. According to her lawyer, she pled not guilty.

The Department of Homeland Security arrested Odeh on October 22 from her home in Chicago. She has been an American citizen since 2004, yet allegedly failed to mention on her immigration application form that she was arrested and tried by an Israeli military court in 1969.

According to the US Palestinian Community Network, her arrest is part of “an ongoing witch-hunt that targets Arabs and Muslims who criticize U.S. and Israeli policy.” The immigration charge is just “a pretext for an escalation and a continuation of legal and political attacks on our community,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

US government’s approach to Palestinian activists

Many leftist groups in the US see Odeh’s arrest as an act of political repression and reproach the US for providing Israel with impunity in the international community. The Center for Constitutional Rights calls the incident a “clear signal that federal authorities, along with Israel and its supporters in the U.S., are continuing to search for ways to intimidate and silence those who are effective advocates for Arab American communities, and who speak out for Palestinian rights.”

The Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, has documented over 75 cases of intimidation and legal bullying of Arab American activists in 2013, ranging from perceived surveillance to FBI contacts and discriminatory enforcement of laws.

The Socialist Worker concludes that “the armed agents who arrived at her [Odeh’s] door in late October have nothing to do with failing to check a box on an immigration form or a government paper-pusher who neglected to run a background check a decade ago. The persecution of Odeh began more than 40 years ago with Israel’s drive to crush resistance to its occupation of Palestine and continues today with U.S. efforts to squelch dissent.”

Support for Odeh

Rasmea’s supporters are demanding that U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade drop all federal charges against her. 64 organizations signed a statement of support for Odeh, among which the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee. The statement reads that Israel’s military courts “operate exclusively to subjugate occupied Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza” and that Odeh is an “exemplary citizen” who has overcome “amazing odds.”

“I panicked when she got arrested,” filmmaker and friend Arab Lofti told Ahram Online. “She is not a terrorist, but a fighter. She went to the US to become a social worker and help the Palestinian community.”

On October 13, activists demonstrated all over the US against the government’s case. More than 100 people from Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee gathered in Detroit, where Odeh had to appear in court. Solidarity protests also took place in Oakland, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Tampa, Gainesville, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City.

In Detroit, Kait McIntyre spoke on behalf of Chicago’s Students for a Democratic Society: “Rasmea’s dedication to justice is shown by her leadership on the Arab Women’s Committee and leading work in the areas of civil liberties and immigration rights at the Arab American Action Network. We believe her work should be applauded, not condemned!”

Convicted by an Israeli military court

Odeh was convicted in 1969 for alleged membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and on suspicion of being involved in two Jerusalem bombings that lead to the death of two civilians, the Egyptian news site Ahram Online wrote.

The U.S. Palestinian Community Network stated that the Israeli military court system “allows almost no right to due process” and that around 20% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza has served time as a political prisoner in an Israeli prison.

Amnesty International confirms that Palestinians who go through the military court system “face a wide range of abuses of their right to a fair trial. They are routinely interrogated without a lawyer and, although they are civilians, are tried before military not ordinary courts.”

In the documentary, Women in Struggle, Odeh testifies about the sexual abuse she had to endure during her imprisonment. She was released as part of a prisoner exchange after serving 10 years in Israeli prison.

“Outstanding Community Leader Award”

Earlier this year, the Chicago Cultural Alliance awarded Odeh the “Outstanding Community Leader Award” for her work in empowering Arab women in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Chicago. The sixty-six year old Palestinian-American feminist, activist, educator and community leader has been the associate director of the Arab American Action Network since 2004, a social services and community organization aimed at strengthening the Arab community in Chicago.

Odeh has devoted her time to working with Arab immigrant women, establishing projects related to civil and human rights, social justice and community economic development. She has promoted literacy and political education, but also organized workshops on addressing domestic violence and anti-Arab sentiment.

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