More than 100 supporters rallied outside the US District Court in Detroit, Michigan, on Monday, June 13, in support of Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh. Odeh and her legal team were in court for a hearing about whether Odeh will be allowed to testify about evidence excluded from her earlier trial. Odeh was convicted in November 2014, of an immigration fraud charge. Prosecutors alleged that Odeh broke US immigration law when she did not disclose that an Israeli military court imprisoned her in 1969.
Led by the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), activists came to support Odeh outside a hearing that laid the path for evidence related to Odeh’s torture and rape in Israeli prisons to be allowed in a potential retrial. Odeh’s legal team is trying to persuade Judge Gershwin Drain that Odeh and an expert witness will be able to testify as to her abuse. Odeh’s lawyer, Michael Deutsch of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, told the crowd after the hearing that he was “confident” the evidence would be allowed and that Drain “seems to lean to the fact that he’s going to have to let her expert [on post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD)] testify.”
Judge Drain in Odeh’s earlier trial excluded evidence about her rape and torture and ensuing PTSD. An appellate court in February ruled that evidence was improperly excluded and that Drain should reconsider his ruling.
Hatem Abudayyeh, Odeh’s colleague at the Arab-American Action Network, said that the appeal and the recent rally have put Odeh’s team “in a good position right now. We feel like for the first time in a long, long time we’re on the offense. We feel like we’ve got the advantage and we’re really excited.”
Activists Call for Solidarity and Linking Struggles
Activists from as far as Texas gathered outside the hearing to march, chant and testify in support of Odeh, Palestinian liberation and the connections between Palestinian freedom and other struggles for justice.
Nerissa Allegretti of Gabriela: Alliance of Filipino Women, said that Gabriela and the National Alliance of Filipino Concerns traveled to Detroit to support Odeh because, “What’s happening with Rasmea is also a repression against women. And we know that Filipino women throughout the colonization by Spain and occupation by the US are fighting to this day against repression. Rasmea is a symbol of women representing their people asking for justice. We always have this affinity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.” She explained how, despite significant historical differences, the forced “diaspora of the Palestinian people” resonates strongly with Filipinos who too are forced into diaspora through colonialism and occupation and more recently by “an assault of the neoliberal policies of the World Trade Organization and all these trade agreements.”
Tawana Petty, a poet, author and activist from Detroit invoked the gendered violence Israel subjected Odeh to and the racism Palestinians face in an impassioned address to the crowd. “I stand here as a Black woman, born and raised in the city of Detroit. A city that’s been under a half century of propaganda assault. Coming from an oppressed community that has experienced racism, as a rape survivor, as a domestic violence survivor, I stand here on behalf of Rasmea, on behalf of my community, saying that ‘Rasmea is welcome here!’ And that we as a Black community and as Detroiters need to stand up for other oppressed communities and we cannot let Rasmea go behind those bars again.”
Abudayyeh told the crowd how Odeh’s case is inextricably tied to a broader FBI crackdown on Palestine, antiwar and other progressive social movements initiated by a series of raids conducted by the FBI in September 2010, and how the raids and Odeh’s case define solidarity and liberation work as “criminal acts.”
Next Steps in the Case
Various speakers at the rally called for further organizing in support of Odeh going forward. Attorney Deutsch explained the reasons why after emerging from the court. He said, “The people who are in the courtroom, the jury, the judge, the court staff and the US attorney see what kind of support Rasmea has and that is an influence on how they view her. It influences all the actors in the courtroom.”
Odeh thanked the crowd to close the rally saying, “I hope with your support we will win in the end.”
The next hearing is tentatively scheduled for November 29, 2016, at which time arguments will be heard about including defense witness testimony about PTSD. Should Drain rule in favor of including the testimony, a retrial may go forward as soon as January 2017.