In just a few short weeks, a beloved and respected community organizer from Chicago will begin an ordeal that will determine whether the US government will strip her of her citizenship, imprison her for 10 years and ultimately deport her to country unknown.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Rasmea Odeh will appear in federal court in Detroit to face one charge of ‘unlawful procurement of naturalization,’ for allegedly omitting an answer on her citizenship application. The end results could be devastating: Odeh, 67, faces a decade in prison and the revocation of the citizenship she gained 10 years ago.
Odeh, an attorney by trade, is known throughout the country for her activism, particularly for defending civil liberties and immigrant rights. She’s been a staple in Chicago activism circles for years. Her Arab Women’s Committee has more than 600 members and she’s a mentor to hundreds of immigrant women. She is well loved and respected, not only in Chicago, but throughout the United States.
To understand how a woman, who just last year was the recipient of the Chicago Cultural Alliance’s “Outstanding Community Leader Award,” came to this point, one must understand the geo-politics of America’s “special relationship” with Israel and how being Palestinian, as Odeh is, can sentence someone to a lifetime of inequality.
The life she successfully created for herself in her adopted country came crashing to a halt on the morning of Oct. 22, 2013, when agents from the Department of Homeland Security arrested her in her home. In one quick court appearance later that morning, where she was charged with lying on her citizenship application, past memories of physical and sexual torture by Israeli military officials, a confession compelled by that torture, which she later recanted, and 10 years of brutal and illegal incarceration came back to haunt the beloved community organizer.
“Rasmea was horrifically tortured for 25 days, she was denied access to a lawyer for 45 days. She – as were all the other (500 people) arrested – confessed under torture and then recanted her confession, but nonetheless, spent 10 years in prison. Then she was released in a prisoner swap,” and she came to join her father and brother in Detroit, who were naturalized US citizens,” her defense attorney Michael Deutsch told Flashpoint radio.
Odeh eventually relocated to Chicago, where she became the associate director of the Arab American Action Network. Ten years after arriving in the United States, she applied for citizenship. It was in this context that Odeh answered questions regarding previous arrests and detentions.
“She had been in the US for 10 years when she answered those questions and it was obvious to her the questions were about ‘were you ever arrested in the US?’ ‘Were you ever convicted and imprisoned in the US?’ They were trying to see how she comported with US society over those 10 years,” Deutsch said. “Nevertheless, they are going back 45 years and saying that she lied about the fact she had been arrested in a war situation and convicted of charges that were part of a systematic use of torture by the illegal occupation courts that the [Israeli] military set up on the West Bank,” he added.
The fact the Department of Justice is pursuing a case nearly half a century old, based upon a confession forced by torture in a foreign country, shows just how the US’ “special relationship” with Israel can hurt American citizens. Other notorious cases in the US have relied upon secret evidence supplied by Israel, such as the case against American citizen Mohammed Salah and the case against what had been the country’s largest Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation. In the latter case, the court also allowed Israeli witnesses to testify under disguise and in secret. Mohammad Salah eventually was acquitted of the charges against him, while five men from the Holy Land Foundation were convicted and are serving unusually lengthy sentences ranging from 15 years to 65 years.
Recently, Judge Drain dismissed a motion to dismiss Odeh’s case on the grounds it’s based on illegal evidence obtained in a four-year-old investigation into 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists. In the latest development, prosecutors are trying to create the impression that Odeh and her supporters present a danger to anyone serving on the jury and, therefore, are asking for an anonymous jury that would be sequestered. Calling her supporters, ‘hordes” and “mobs,” the prosecutor also is showing a bias against Palestinians and their supporters.
“There is a distinctly racist, anti-Arab undertone to the prosecutor’s motion, where spirited and dignified protests,” said key defense committee organizer Hatem Abudayyeh, who was one of the 23 activists targeted in the investigation. “Again, the federal government is trying to sow fear among people in the U.S. by criminalizing and stereotyping Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. As one of Rasmea’s lawyers said when he was informed of the motion, it ‘is only intended to play the ‘terrorism’ card and is unacceptable.’”
For her part, Odeh is continues her work with the women’s committee and her work at the Arab American Action Network to keep her mind off the impending trial. Looking at a flyer for an upcoming event at the end of the November, schedule two weeks after her trial is expected to end, she sighs.
“I hope I will be able to come. I am keeping busy to keep my mind off things. And I have hope. We must have hope.”