Rasmea Odeh: Political Prisoner, and the case of the 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists
Rasmea Odeh is an activist in the Palestinian community in Chicago and is now a political prisoner. In a Federal Court in November 2014, she was convicted of a violation in her immigration application in 2004. This mockery of justice was a political trial masquerading as a criminal trial.
Rasmea was targeted by the U.S. government as part of the repression of the pro-Palestinian movement. This movement, often called the BDS movement (Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions), has grown in recent years against Israel’s occupation and wars on Gaza.
The main basis for her arrest a year ago was that she had allegedly falsely answered “No” to a question asking whether she had ever been arrested or imprisoned. The government claimed that she failed to disclose that she had been convicted by the Israelis of participating in bombings in Jerusalem in 1969. This conviction in an Israeli military court was the result of a false confession made after she was viciously tortured and raped by Israeli military authorities for weeks. There is no due process in Israeli military courts, which “convict” over 99% of Palestinians who come before them, and “evidence” from these should not be accepted in a court in the U.S.
The case against her grew out of the investigation of 23 anti-war and Palestinian community organizers in Chicago and Minneapolis, who were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in 2010. I am speaking today because I was one of those activists. My home was raided by 25 FBI agents on September 24th, 2010. They came after me because I had been a leader in a large protest against the Iraq War, and because I am a supporter of the cause of the Palestinian people.
The grand jury is investigating myself and the 23 activists for allegations that we provided “material support of terrorism.” This is a lie. The FBI and the Justice Department investigated us and are attempting to “criminalize” efforts to empower Chicago’s Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities, as well as work to build solidarity with the struggle in Palestine.
No one testified to the grand jury and, due to broad public support and a strong defense campaign, no one was indicted.
It is clear that Rasmea came under attack by the U.S. government because she is Palestinian, and because for decades, she has organized for Palestinian liberation and self-determination, the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes, and an end to U.S. funding of Israeli occupation.
In Rasmea’s trial, the judge ruled that no evidence could be presented of the crimes of the Israeli occupation. He accepted the argument of the prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney that a conviction by an Israeli military court, in which the defendant had no due process, must be upheld in an American civilian court. He ruled that the jury couldn’t hear any evidence of the torture that Rasmea endured in 1969.
Despite that, Rasmea and her defense team did put the crimes of Israel on record. Her story of being exiled from the village of her birth, Lifta, in 1948; of being exiled again during the 1967 war; of experiencing the death of her sister after the raid on her home in 1969; and of being a political prisoner, one of the most famous in the history of the Palestine liberation movement—all these are stories of the crimes of apartheid Israel, crimes that continue today in the racist settler and military assaults we have seen in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, 1948 Palestine, and the West Bank. Israel’s terrorism, and the U.S. government’s complicity, were exposed for all the world to see.
Rasmea’s honesty in the face of cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Take was thoroughly convincing as well. She said clearly that she thought the questions on the immigration forms were being asked about her time in the U.S., because she said she had nothing to hide and did not need to lie. She had testified about her torture at the United Nations when she was released in 1979, and as her lead attorney, Michael Deutsch, said, “It was well known that she was convicted, and traded [in a prisoner exchange]. The U.S. Embassy knew it, the State Department knew it, and Immigration should have known it.” So although the government had to prove that she “knowingly lied,” it never met that burden, regardless of what the verdict says.
Rasmea is scheduled for sentencing on March 10, 2015. After the jury convicted her, the Judge revoked her bond. ordered her to be jailed immediately, declaring her a “flight risk.” This despite the fact that her passport was confiscated, she is 67 years old, and scores of members of her community from Chicago had attended her trial as evidence that she is beloved. Her supporters responded with hundreds of letters to the judge, and countless phone calls to the jail when they punished Rasmea further by placing her in solitary confinement.
This week, the judge reversed the decision to revoke her bond. In the ruling, the judge wrote: “Defendant’s dedication to her community work and the people that such work assists, as well as the presence of relatives in Chicago, demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that she is not as significant a flight risk as originally believed.” She will be released based on a $50,000 bond, and returned to her community in Chicago until her sentencing in March. At that point, Rasmea’s legal team will undoubtedly file an appeal, and have strong grounds to do so, based on Judge Drain’s unjust decisions in her trial.
And we will continue to support their work with our political organizing and mobilizations. Just like the people in Palestine and across the world will never rest until every inch of historical Palestine is free, we will never rest in our defense and support of Rasmea as she moves forward to challenge this conviction. Her lead attorney, Michael Deutsch said in his closing statement to the jury, “It has been one of the great privileges of my long legal career to represent this extraordinary woman of great passion and dignity.” Rasmea’s story is the story of millions of Palestinians, and of millions of freedom-loving defenders of justice everywhere. Her eventual victory will be a victory for Palestine and for all the people’s movements across the world.