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Justice for Rasmea

Commentary by Joe Iosbaker |
August 11, 2014
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Rally in Tampa, Florida demanding "Drop the Charges" against Rasmea Odeh
Florida action in support of Rasmea Odeh. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Chicago, IL - Rasmea Odeh is an activist in the Palestinian community in Chicago. Her story is the story of Palestinian refugees here.

She lost her family home in Palestine during Al Nakba, “the Catastrophe,” as Palestinians call the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were assaulted by the Israeli terrorist militias that slaughtered thousands and drove 750,000 into exile.

Then in 1967, Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, including the West Bank, where Odeh was a college student. Under the illegal occupation, condemned countless times by votes in the U.N., 20% of the Palestinian people were detained. Like tens of thousands living under that occupation, Odeh was arrested by the Israeli army and charged with a crime; she was then tried without due process, tortured into confessing to the crime and sentenced to life in prison.

Ten years later, Odeh was released in a prisoner exchange. She testified to a U.N. hearing on torture. Some years later, she emigrated to the U.S., where she became a citizen. She has devoted decades of her life to social justice issues, including the past ten years to her work in Chicago with the Arab American Action Network, where she is a leading advocate for women’s rights and immigrant rights.

Because she has been outspoken in defense of her community and Palestine, in the fall of 2013 she was arrested in her home in the Chicago suburbs by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

When she was brought before a judge that morning, only Hatem Abudayyeh, her lawyer, Jim Fennerty, myself and a few friends and family members were with her. Once word got out, many thousands have taken her side, rallying, pledging and acting in her defense.

Why is the government putting her on trial?

That morning in October, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago charged Odeh with a violation on her application for citizenship. But that is only a pretext.

A federal prosecutor with a history of hatred of Palestine was present at court when Odeh appeared: Barry Jonas, best known for having prosecuted the Holy Land Five, the Palestinian men who headed the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. They are imprisoned for as long as 65 years for the crime of providing food and medicine to the wrong children – the children of Gaza. For Jonas, feeding those children is aiding terrorism, and the U.S. court system has taken that stand as well. For the U.S. government, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are targeted for their opposition to Israel and to U.S. wars in their homelands.

Since the morning of her arrest, Odeh’s case has been shown to be linked to the investigation by Jonas of anti-war and international solidarity activists. That investigation began during a permitted peace protest at the Republican National Convention in 2008. The FBI and its Joint Terrorism Task Force sent in undercover agents to spy on the organizers. When the agents learned that the anti-war movement also supports the people of Colombia and Palestine, the U.S. Attorney set up a federal grand jury and got a judge to swear out warrants to search the homes of long time community, labor and anti-war leaders in Chicago and Minneapolis.

On the morning of Sept. 24, 2010, 70 Joint Terrorism Task Force agents raided seven homes and an office and visited homes in three other states. Ultimately, 23 people were subpoenaed to the grand jury. This case is the largest coordinated act of repression of people involved in political activism since the 1960s.

All 23 refused to testify – refused to tell the grand jury who they knew and worked with in the anti-war movement, in Palestine solidarity work, or in Colombia or Palestine. Those activists were able to stop the grand jury, despite the threat of prison time for refusing to testify, because of support received by the peace movement, labor and civil libertarians, including a dozen members of Congress. An Assistant U.S. Attorney had been overheard complaining that the activists were having “their day in the sun,” but threatened that the case against them wasn’t over. Until today, the government has refused to drop the investigation.

Hatem Abudayyeh was one of those whose home was raided in Chicago in 2010. Abudayyeh is the director of the Arab American Action Network, and Odeh is his co-worker. The connection could not be clearer. But to punctuate the connection, the FBI visited a Palestinian businessman in Chicago in April, and asked him about both Abudayyeh and Odeh.

U.S. legal system upholds Israeli occupation

Outside the courtroom in Chicago in October, Abudayyeh looked over the crowd of seven or eight DHS agents milling around outside the room where Odeh met with her lawyer, Jim Fennerty, after the reading of the indictment. After listening to the Assistant U.S. Attorney citing Odeh’s confession, gained through sadistic torture by Israel’s army in their illegal occupation, Abudayyeh remarked loud enough for the agents to hear, “So you work for Israel now?”

In the U.S. legal system, confessions extracted through torture are not acceptable in a court of law. However, over and again, exceptions have been made when it comes to the actions of Palestinians in support and defense of their compatriots. In two previous federal cases, the Holy Land Five and the case of Muhammad Salah, tortured confessions were allowed to be entered as evidence and both were key to the convictions. Now Odeh’s torture is being upheld by the Department of Justice again.

In Chicago, the police department is so well known for its torture of African American suspects that it cost Mayor Richard M. Daley the 2016 Olympics. The fact that Chicago has become the torture capital of the U.S. can’t be missed.

To justify their use of a coerced confession, the U.S. Attorney has had to resort to demonization, claiming that Rasmea Odeh is a ‘terrorist’ hiding in the Chicago suburbs. The anti-war and international solidarity activists were “violent,” conspiring to provide “material support” to “foreign terrorist organizations” in Palestine and Colombia.

The intent of Barry Jonas and the Department of Justice is to criminalize protest. They want to make a crime out of opposing the number one source of violence in the world today: U.S. wars. They want to make solidarity a crime, if it is expressed for people struggling against U.S.-backed governments, like Colombia, and U.S.-funded occupations, like the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

An empire in crisis

Attacking Rasmea Odeh for something that occurred in 1969 seems like an act of desperation. In the mind of Barry Jonas, a 67-year-old woman who has worked for decades nurturing refugee and immigrant communities is dangerous, and has to be put in prison and then deported. In the same way, Immigration and Customs Enforcement tears apart hundreds of thousands of Latino immigrant families to maintain ‘border security.’

Why is Barry Jonas so scared? Could it be he sees the end of the so-called Peace Process and the Two State Solution, since the Arab Spring protests swept away the Mubarak regime, the most powerful Arab government partnering with the criminals in Tel Aviv? Perhaps he fears that the rise of the Boycott/Divestment/ Sanctions movement will be for Israel what it was for the original apartheid state of South Africa – the tolling of the bell of justice. Barry Jonas, like all Zionists, must harbor the fear that the verdict is in on Israel: it is a racist state, living on stolen land and borrowed time.

Call to action

Detroit is the location of the trial. Judge Paul Borman has set Monday, Sept. 8 for the opening of the proceedings. All those who know Rasmea Odeh, care for her, and love justice, are mobilizing to be in court with her. Those that can’t go should help raise money for the defense and to help send others to Detroit.

Pack the courtroom. Put Israel on trial for its crimes. Justice for Rasmea.

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