In 1969, Rasmea Odeh was tortured until she confessed to a crime she denies committing. After a decade in an Israeli prison, she was released and eventually became a U.S. citizen. She now stands to lose her citizenship for not reporting the conviction she refuses to accept.
UPDATE (3/13/2015): On Thursday March 12 Rasmea Odeh was sentenced to 18 months in prison for charges of immigration fraud. U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain also revoked her American citizenship, and Odeh faces deportation to Jordan upon serving her sentence. Odeh is currently free on bond, pending a planned appeal.
WASHINGTON — Rasmea Yousef Odeh, 67, was brutally tortured and sexually assaulted in an Israeli jail in 1969. She was beaten with plastic sticks and a metal bar, compelling her to confess to a crime she denies committing. Soldiers also arrested her father “and tried to force him under blows to take off his clothes and have sexual relations” with her, according to her 1979 testimony at a United Nations special committee in Geneva, Switzerland, as reported by The Hill.
Last October, U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh at her Chicago-area home. She’s scheduled to appear in a Detroit court on Nov. 4 to face charges of the unlawful procurement of naturalization.
Odeh became an American citizen in 2004. In the naturalization process, she apparently failed to disclose her 1969 arrest and conviction which resulted in her decade-long imprisonment in an Israeli jail. “She doesn’t accept the conviction because it was forced under torture, and she doesn’t accept the Israeli military tribunal that convicted her,” Hatem Abudayyeh, a colleague of Odeh’s at the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, told MintPress News.
Odeh is the associate director of the organization and is responsible for management and operations. She also runs the network’s Arab Women’s Committee, an organization of 600 Arab immigrant women ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s. They are mostly new immigrants from throughout the Middle East who do not have much knowledge of the United States. The committee offers them classes on English and parenting, holds social and leadership development workshops, and helps them to organize around issues that directly affect their lives.
If Odeh is convicted, she could be imprisoned and have her U.S. citizenship revoked.
Her conviction in an Israeli military court was allegedly forced under the torture she endured over a 45-day period. She says that she did not plant a bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket on Feb. 21, 1969, which is one of the crimes for which she was convicted. She was also convicted of being a member of an illegal organization and placing a bomb at the British Consulate on Feb. 21 and Feb. 25, 1969. Nearly 100 percent of the trials heard in a military court of Palestinians end in a conviction, according to Haaretz’s review of the military courts’ 2010 report.
Politics and the FBI
Josh Ruebner is familiar with the court documents. He told MintPress that he believes Rasmea’s case is politically motivated.
“You have here somebody who is a widely admired Palestinian-American community organizer in Chicago. And over the last decade or so there have been any number of politically motivated cases which seek to crack down on Palestinian-Americans and Palestinian-American organizations to try to prevent them organizing and speaking and acting on behalf of Palestinian rights,” said Ruebner, author of “Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”
Odeh’s case is directly linked to FBI raids coordinated in 2010 against 23 anti-war activists and labor organizers. The agency was looking for “material support” for Palestinian and Colombian “groups designated by the U.S. government as terrorists,” according to The Washington Post.
Odeh’s colleague, Abudayyeh, was one of the people targeted.
“In September of 2010, my home was raided by the FBI and the home of one of my colleagues here in Chicago, a married couple who also do Palestine solidarity work, and five homes and an office of the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis,” he told MintPress. “What we had in common was that we had all done some level of Palestine support work. I was doing it within the Palestinian community directly, some of the others were doing it in their capacity as international solidarity activists.”
Five or six months after the raids Abudayyeh found out that Odeh’s name appeared as a colleague of his at the Arab American Action Network. “And they sent a request from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago to the State Department in D.C. to get documents from Israel. And after they got those documents is when they started developing this case against her,” he said.
Of those affected by the FBI raids, no one was indicted. Abudayyeh maintains that the raids were a “witch hunt,” explaining that, “They had nothing, they couldn’t arrest anybody.”
“Then, three years later, they arrest this 67-year-old senior citizen and accuse her of a ridiculous pretextual crime!” he exclaimed.
Odeh is featured in Buthina Canaan Khoury’s “Women in Struggle,” a 2004 documentary on Palestinian women imprisoned by Israel.
In the film, Ayesha Odeh says, “My brother belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP] at that time. We used our own car to transport resistance fighters, transport possibly weapons, [and] transport the injured.”
It’s not clear whether she and Rasmea Odeh are related, but Rasmea Odeh’s indictment does attempt to link her to the PFLP. The FBI is interested in links between activists here in the U.S. and the group, which is listed on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
However, a broader reading of the indictment of Odeh includes “the systematic criminalization of Palestinian organizing — which has always included that of leftists,” according to Charlotte Kates, a social justice and Palestine solidarity activist.
In a January opinion piece for Jacobin magazine, she wrote, “This project took on a harder edge in 1995 and 1996 when, as part of the Oslo process, the State Department created lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Those lists have made it difficult for Arab and Muslim communities in the US to maintain connections to struggle in their homelands, with material support to a range of politically active groups punishable by lengthy prison sentences.”
Abudayyeh agrees. He told MintPress, “There’s a political analysis to this. It says that our government is supporting Israel unequivocally and must support it unequivocally because Israel plays a strategic role for the U.S. in the Arab world.”
In order for this policy to change, he says, there has to be a shift in people’s understanding of the U.S. relationship with Israel.
Ruebner expressed similar indignation, telling MintPress, “I think it’s outrageous for the United States to claim not to know about Rasmea’s circumstances when she testified openly before the United Nations.”
He added that her testimony to the U.N. highlights a pattern of Israel using torture against Palestinians. He explained that Palestinians are under military occupation and face a practice of mass jailing. Indeed, up to 40 percent of the male population has been detained at some point since the 1967 war, when Israel took control of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, according to Reuters.
“The reality is when the United States supports Israel, it is supporting this systematic jailing and torturing of Palestinians,” Ruebner said.
Torture and an explosion in Jerusalem
In Khoury’s film, made the same year that Odeh was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, Odeh describes the torture she endured.
“The whole interrogation was difficult,” she says.
“The moment they brought my father into the interrogation room while I was naked and they tried to force him to sleep with me during the interrogation, this was one of the worst moments.”
She also recounts how the military brought her into another room, still naked, while a man named Qasem Abu Aker was being tortured. She says he was killed by electric shocks while she was still in the room.
Odeh explains that she suffered many forms of humiliation and torture, but the worst was the incident with her father.
“That was horrible… very horrible. Even though I was stripped naked and tortured in front of others, in front of my father the situation hit me at a different level,” she says. “I was worried he would die from this incident, as though something major inside him was destroyed.”
MintPress contacted Khoury, who is currently in the U.S., for comment on the charges against Odeh. Khoury told MintPress, “I feel it’s not fair what’s happening to Rasmea, like you’re being charged for something that the U.S. has nothing to do with. She was Palestinian at that time and she acted like the rest of the Palestinians would act.”
In the film, Ayesha Odeh discusses an operation involving the planting of a bomb at a West Jerusalem market called Super Saul. She explains that her role in the operation was minimal, saying, “I only got involved in the preparation of explosives. We wanted to place two bombs to blow up consecutively. I suggested to have the second bomb go off 5 or 6 minutes after the first bomb so that those who get killed in it would be members of the army and secret service but it did not explode… They diffused it 20 seconds before it exploded…”
She goes on to say that, “Rasmiyeh Oudeh [Rasmea Odeh] was more involved than I was, and Rasheedah Obeiduh had gone and studied the location and had come and done a report back.”
The criminal case for which Rasmea Odeh was convicted, however, charged that she was the one who placed the bomb in the market, according to Ruebner, who reviewed Odeh’s 1979 testimony before the U.N. He told MintPress, “She’s always maintained that she did not place the bomb in that supermarket.”
In an article for The Hill, Ruebner recounts Odeh’s testimony, in which she alleges that her interrogators brought her to the supermarket where the bomb exploded and asked her to point out where she put the explosive.
Ruebner quotes her as saying, “Of course, I didn’t know the place and I said, ‘Where exactly do you want me to show you where I put this explosive charge?’ So they showed me where the explosion had taken place and I actually pointed out that place without being able to give any details of the operation. I didn’t even know how the operation had taken place.”
Photo credit: Nader Ihmoud for Palestine in America