Rasmea Odeh, the 69-year old Palestinian American community leader who was tortured and sexually assaulted by the Israeli military in 1969, is bringing to a close her battle to win justice from the U.S. legal system.
After living in this country for over 20 years, Rasmea was charged in 2013 with an immigration violation that was always just a pretext for a broader attempt to criminalize the Palestine liberation movement. She has spent the last three and a half years leading a powerful battle to resist this attack, joined by hundreds of supporters for every court appearance, and thousands of supporters across the country and the world. However, the prospects for a fair trial are slimmer than ever. The prosecution team is now under the regime of racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a new superseding indictment re-frames this as a case about “terrorism” rather than immigration. There is the great likelihood that a jury would be prejudiced by hearing the zionist Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel call Rasmea a “terrorist” and her supporters “mobs and hordes,” as he has done many times before. As a Palestinian who has dedicated her life to the cause of liberation, it is impossible for Rasmea to expect a fair trial in U.S. courts.
In 1969, as a college student, Rasmea was arrested by the Israeli police, along with as many as 500 others, and accused of involvement in two bombings. She was horrifically tortured for 25 days (including electric shocks and sexual assault), as was her father in her presence; and then tried before a kangaroo Israeli military court. This tribunal has military officers, and not civilians, as prosecutors and judges, and convicts over 99% of its Palestinian prisoners. She was found guilty based on a confession coerced through torture, and then given a life sentence. In 1979, she was freed with other Palestinians in a prisoner exchange.
In her 2014 trial in U.S. federal court, where she was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly giving false answers to questions on her applications for permanent residency and citizenship, Judge Gershwin Drain prohibited the defense from challenging the legality of the military tribunal or offering proof of her innocence of the bombings. She was also not allowed to put forward that she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the torture, but she won an appeal and a new trial expressly based on the excluded torture evidence. Its back against the wall, the government then filed a vindictive new superseding indictment that falsely accused Rasmea of being a “terrorist” and a member of a “designated terrorist organization.”
Under this current, racist political climate, and facing 18 months or more of imprisonment, as well as the possibility of indefinite detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Rasmea has made the difficult decision to accept a plea agreement. She will plead guilty to Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, lose her U.S. citizenship, and be forced to leave the country, but will exit the U.S. without having to serve any more time in prison or ICE detention, a victory, considering that the government had earlier fought for a sentence of 5-7 years. Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel L. Lemisch and Tukel clearly want to dodge a public and legal defense that puts U.S.-backed Israel on trial for its crimes against Rasmea and its continuing crimes against the Palestinian people as a whole.
Through a massive, organized defense campaign, Rasmea Odeh—a long-time icon of the Palestine liberation movement—is now a name known in every corner of the movement for social justice in the U.S. From the Movement for Black Lives in Ferguson, Chicago, and beyond, to the call for a global #WomenStrike on International Women’s Day, Rasmea has become synonymous with resilience and resistance. This fight not only brought her story to the U.S. and the world, but also pushed forward the cause of the liberation of Palestine. She exposed Israel for what it is – a racist occupier and colonizer – and put its policy of torture and sexual assault on the permanent record in a U.S. court of law.
We had practical victories too. When the first judge assigned to Rasmea’s case was exposed as a lifelong supporter of Israel, and it was then found that he had direct financial ties that affirmed this bias, he was forced to remove himself from the case. After the first trial led to a conviction that did not hold up under appeal, Rasmea was taken immediately into custody. Supporters mobilized to demand her release. Within weeks, the movement had helped to post her bond, and Rasmea was back in Chicago, planning her successful appeal and continuing her important community organizing. And Rasmea never once walked into a courthouse alone. Whether by the dozens or the hundreds, at every hearing, every day of trial, from Detroit to Cincinnati, we were with her.
Rasmea’s choice today was not easy, but nothing in this journey has been, and our support continues to be critical. Soon, a hearing date will be set for Judge Drain to consider the plea agreement. We will again call for All Out to Detroit and stand beside her on that difficult day. After that, Rasmea will continue her incredible organizing work wherever she is, and so will we.
As she said to supporters outside the courthouse after the initial verdict, “There is justice in this world, we will find it. We will face injustice and we have to change this world, not just in this country, in all the world in all the places there is no justice, we have to bring the justice together. In spite of everything, we are the stronger people, not the government who is unjust.”
The case of Rasmea Odeh presents us all with an example of how to resist. The current political climate is formidable. The Muslim Ban, attacks on Latino immigrants and Black people, the cuts to programs serving women … these and other attacks will call on each of us to be unwavering, like Rasmea; to be consistent like her supporters; and to never run scared or fall silent in the face of injustice.
Rasmea Defense Committee, led by U.S. Palestinian Community Network and Committee to Stop FBI Repression
March 23rd, 2017