Twenty-two-year-old Rasmea Odeh, along with 500 other Palestinians, was arrested in 1969 by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during a massive security sweep following the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank.
At the time, as now, Palestinians who were detained by the IDF were later charged with crimes they did not commit in order to justify their detention.
Charged with bombing a supermarket, while in prison, Odeh was tortured with electrical shock and raped with batons. Her father was tortured in front of her.
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IDF personnel even attempted to make her father rape her.
She was beaten regularly with metal rods, kicked, threatened, humiliated, denied medical care and access to a bathroom, and almost needless to say, was denied access to legal resources.
She was made to watch a Palestinian man literally tortured to death.
She eventually signed a confession to stop IDF personnel from continuing to torture her father.
In March 1979, Odeh was finally released with 60 other prisoners as part of a prisoner exchange for an Israeli soldier. Shortly thereafter she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she gave testimony regarding the torture she suffered at the hands of the IDF.
At the end of the narrative of her torture and imprisonment by the Israelis, she said, “It may have been 10 years, but it felt like 100 years.”
Odeh lived in Lebanon after that, then Jordan, until in 1994 she was able to move to the United States to live, since her father was a US citizen.
Ten years later, she became active in the Arab-American community in Chicago, and became the deputy executive director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), a community-based nonprofit that provides social services and advocacy, campaigns against anti-Arab discrimination, and organizes for the Arab-American community in the greater Chicago area.
Then, in 2013, 19 years after arriving in the United States and nine years after receiving US citizenship, Odeh was indicted by the US government and charged with immigration fraud, stemming from other charges pulled from her 35-year-old IDF file.
Illegally Charged by Illegal Occupiers
Odeh’s lawyer for the case against her in the United States is Michael Deutsch with the People’s Law Office in Chicago.
Deutsch told Truthout he believes Odeh’s indictment is an attempt to “criminalize her,” and has advised her not to speak with the media out of concern something she said might be used against her, given the politically sensitive nature of her case.
“In 2010 the AAAN was investigated by the FBI, and the FBI wanted more information on Rasmea’s background and sent a request to the Israeli government to pull her file,” Deutsch explained.
Later that same year, the FBI raided the homes of various activists, including Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of AAAN.
“Everyone refused to testify at the grand jury, no indictments were made, and possessions seized during the home raids were returned to people,” Deutsch said. “But it was during this that they learned of her history in the occupied territories.”
The US government claims that Odeh lied when she said she had never been arrested, convicted or imprisoned.
Deutsch is well-versed in cases like Odeh’s, given that he was one of the lawyers for the Attica prisoners following the 1971 prison uprising and state massacre. He was also the legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, and has been with the People’s Law Office since 1970.
“Our view is that she was asked these questions almost 10 years after coming to this country, and on one level they pertain to the US, and so she said no because the question is ambiguous,” Deutsch said. “She thought they were asking her [if she’d been arrested during] her time in the US.”
Truthout was provided with a court affidavit for Odeh’s US case, within which Mary Fabri, a licensed clinical psychologist who also worked as the senior director of Torture Treatment Services and International Training for the Kovler Center in Chicago, provided the details of Odeh’s treatment at the hands of the IDF.
Fabri has diagnosed Odeh with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and has provided expert opinion that Odeh has suppressed the memories of what happened to her at the hands of the IDF.
“We believe her PTSD affected her state of mind when she answered those questions,” Deutsch added. “Like someone who is a battered woman saying she was never married because she suppresses that information so as not to think about it.”
Deutsch also sees a legal problem with the US government’s attempt to frame Odeh’s conviction and persecution by an occupying force as evidence of illegal activity.
“That doesn’t hold up to due process or the fundamentals of international law,” he said. “These military courts the Israelis set up are illegal under international law, hence, no evidence from them should be used in this case.”
Deutsch and others on Odeh’s defense team say her indictment is being pushed by the US government as an effort to criminalize those working to educate people about what is really happening in the occupied territories.
“I’ve seen in other cases I’ve worked on, a close collaboration between the US and Israeli Justice Departments, and I think the Israelis are more than happy to cooperate with that and condemn her and have her thrown out of the country,” Deutsch said.
If Odeh is convicted she automatically loses her citizenship and would be subject to deportation.
Given that the IDF just killed more than 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the vast majority of whom were civilians, the possible ramifications of deportation are, indeed, dire.
Pro-Israel Judge Steps Down
The judge for Odeh’s case, US District Judge Paul Borman, recently recused himself from her trial after Deutsch and other attorneys accused him of having lifelong ties to the Israeli government.
Borman had angrily refused to recuse himself, but then it was also discovered that his family had financial ties to the supermarket Odeh was accused of bombing.
Borman had also been honored with a civic award in part for his support of Israel, and his family had raised more than $3 million for a pro-Israel charity.
“She’s maintained she was not involved,” Deutsch said of the bombing. “Even though they all said they’d been tortured and recused their confessions. So she’s saying whatever she said [at the time of her detention] was a result of torture and she was not involved [in the bombing].”
Abudayyeh, AAAN’s executive director, told Truthout he felt vindicated by Borman’s decision to recuse himself.
“It was all about his relationship to Israel,” he said of Borman’s strong political and financial ties to Israel. “So for him to have ruled that he was offended for being attacked was absolutely disingenuous.”
Abudayyeh told Truthout that AAAN is “a very political organization” which believes in “challenging systems of oppression, and working to cause very real change.”
Also a member of Odeh’s defense committee, Abudayyeh has worked with her more than 10 years, knows her well, and praises her character.
“This is a person who has dedicated her life to social justice,” he said of Odeh’s character. “For close to 50 years she’s been a social justice advocate, working with Palestinian refugees from 1948 to the present. She’s a simple woman who’s never sought out personal publicity, has no ego, is 67 and still does organizing the old fashioned way.”
Abudayyeh sees the indictment against Odeh as part of a broader attack against the Palestinian community in general.
“There is Islamaphobia, and it’s moved from being a personal tool of oppression to structural and institutional,” he explained. “Even non-prominent Muslims are being caught up in law enforcement entrapment on both coasts now. The majority of the prominent Muslims caught up in that net have in common that they are Palestinian organizers, and are challenging US foreign policy as it relates to Palestine specifically.”
Deutsch concurred, drawing a stark analogy.
“From 1969 to the present, the IDF tortures people and we have plenty of evidence of this systematic torture,” he said. “If you have Nazi courts, would they put in a conviction from a Nazi court in a US court?”
He remains concerned that despite a new judge being selected for the case, this still may not be a fair trial.
Nevertheless, Deutsch sees the best outcome of the trial as this: “They find the judgment of an occupation military court is not legitimate and therefore they can’t put in evidence that she was convicted and imprisoned by this so-called judicial process and thus couldn’t be convicted and lose her citizenship,” he said.
According to Deutsch, if Odeh were convicted, “It’d be a strong punishment for something that was unjust in the first place.”
Abudayyeh told Truthout that a new judge has been randomly appointed to replace Borman: Judge Gershwin Drain.
Born in Detroit, Drain worked as an attorney in the federal defender’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan, served as a judge of the 36th District Court for Detroit, served as a judge on the Recorder’s Court for Detroit, and served on the Third Circuit Court of Michigan, working in both the civil and criminal divisions of the court.
The next trial date is September 2, where it is expected that introductions will be presented and a second trial date will be set.
Abudayyeh believes Odeh’s trial is critically important, and says the case must be won “both in the courtroom and in the streets.” He, the AAAN and other groups are mobilizing from Chicago to Michigan to fill the courtroom in support of Odeh.
“We know historically in this country that every social justice movement that has been effective has come under attack by law enforcement, and we believe very strongly that this is what is happening to Palestinians here now,” Abudayyeh said. “We are winning some battles now, and Palestinians around the world are winning this battle against Israel for the hearts and minds of the world, with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. So, this is how the US and Israel are reacting . . . they are attacking us by trying to criminalize us. So if they can take down a community icon like Rasmea, then they think they can criminalize the movement as a whole.”