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Chicago International Women’s Day demands justice for Rasmea Odeh

By staff |
March 12, 2014
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Delores Phillips and Rasmea Odeh at Chicago International Women's Day event
Delores Phillips and Rasmea Odeh at Chicago International Women's Day event. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Chicago IL - To mark International Women’s Day (IWD) in Chicago, and to honor leading Palestinian women’s rights organizer Rasmea Odeh, 70 activists came together here, March 8, for a panel and dinner titled, “Winning Justice for Palestine & for Rasmea Odeh.”

The dinner saw one woman speaker after another rising to recognize IWD and the guest of honor, Rasmea Odeh. Odeh is the community activist from Chicago who faces a trial in June on charges that could result in deportation and prison time. She was arrested in October 2013 and charged with violations on a questionnaire for citizenship from 20 years ago. She is the victim of another politically-motivated witch-hunt by federal law enforcement in their campaign to intimidate Palestinian community and solidarity activists.

Professor Nadine Naber spoke about the history of IWD, and the honored place that Rasmea Odeh holds in the eyes of Palestinian people across the world for her history as a political prisoner and of organizing against Israel’s occupation. Naber offered a powerful analysis of how the U.S. empire claims that women in the Arab and Muslim worlds are oppressed and powerless, and cannot fight for their own rights, which is used to justify U.S. wars and occupations. She went on to say that Odeh and so many other strong women and women’s organizations are self-determined and do not want or need U.S. intervention.

Sarah Chambers of the Chicago Teachers Union spoke about the teachers at her school, mainly women, who made national news when they refused to give the Illinois Standard Achievement Test to their students in protest of the education program of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which values non-stop standardized testing over critical thinking and creative learning skills.

Kait McIntyre talked about the efforts of the Anti-War Committee-Chicago to oppose new wars, as well as that group’s ongoing support for Palestine and for Rasmea Odeh . McIntyre used the opportunity to announce that she is running on an anti-war platform for the board of directors of Boeing Company. Chicago-based Boeing is the second largest arms manufacturer in the world and is bidding for the Pentagon contract to build a new, more deadly combat drone.

Delores Phillips of the United Electrical workers thanked Odeh for standing up for her rights, in the same way that Phillips, newly elected president of UE Local 1118, and her fellow union activists have been standing up for their rights against the bosses in her workplace. She closed with, "We should support Rasmea in her struggle by showing other women that they are not alone. No woman should go without emotional, physical, educational, mental and financial support!"

And Lulu Martinez of the Immigrant Youth Justice League described the international headlines made by her and eight other undocumented students - the Dream 9 - who ‘self deported’ by presenting themselves to federal agents in Arizona. She spent 15 days in a federal detention center there, and talked about that experience in prison, which made her respect greatly Odeh’s history as a political prisoner, as well as the tens of thousands of Mexican and other Latino women who have been deported in the past decade.

The pre-dinner panel began with Palestinian activists Rama Kased, who is based in San Francisco and is a National Coordinating Committee Member of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, and Tarek Khalil of the Chicago chapter of the American Muslims for Palestine, speaking on the prospects of the peace talks in Palestine.

Khalil criticized the terms of the negotiations, which he believes violated Palestinians’ rights from the outset. He suggested, like most Palestinians around the world, that the right to return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be the main demand in any negotiations.

Kased declared that the Palestinian national bourgeoisie, represented by a small sector of the Palestinian Authority, stands to gain economically from a peace treaty, but that the vast majority of Palestinians will not. She also suggested that Palestine-support activists in the U.S. must analyze the issue not only from a human rights standpoint, but mostly from a “liberation framework,” especially since, as she explained, “We are not in the state-building stage of our struggle yet. We are still in the national liberation stage.” In answer to a question from the floor, she supported that the Palestine Liberation Organization needed to be reconstituted, and stated confidently that unity discussions happen regularly in Palestine and beyond, but “this fact just does not make the news here in the states.”

After the analysis, solidarity activists on the panel held up the gains made by the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Leila Abdelrazaq, a leader in both Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul University and on the national level, expressed the power of the BDS campaigns to pressure Israel. "BDS forces everyone to see that they can participate in opposing the occupation of Palestine.” She also gave an account of the BDS victories nationally; including the forced resignation of Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson from Oxfam International, the global human rights organization. Johansson chose being a spokesperson for the Israeli company, SodaStream, with its main factory located on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, over human rights. BDS activists declared victory and made international news pressuring her to uphold the boycott of SodaStream.

Bill Chambers of the Palestine Solidarity Group wrapped up the panel by describing local BDS efforts, and asking people to join the BDS coalition in Chicago. Chambers also called for support of a new effort in Illinois to stop a bill in the state legislature. The bill would punish any college or university where faculty members went along with the boycott of Israeli educational institutions. The bill is in reaction to the historic resolution against Israeli apartheid adopted by the American Studies Association in the fall.