On Thursday August 17, over 250 of Rasmea Odeh’s supporters from across the country packed the Federal courtroom in Detroit for her final appearance in the over three year case against her. She was to be sentenced after agreeing to a plea deal to be deported without jail time forced by the antagonistic environment of a Sessions Justice Department determined to retry her as a terrorist.
Rasmea and her supporters who had rallied outside the court in the pouring rain expected that she would be sentenced to time served in jail (33 days), receive some form of fine ($1,000), lose her US citizenship and be deported. What they didn’t expect was a still proud Palestinian community leader prevented from giving her full statement and threatened with contempt of court and jail by Judge Drain if she didn’t stop making the case “political.”
But examining the history of the case and the past statements of Judge Drain, his words were predictable.
At her trial, Odeh was not allowed to tell the full story of her conviction of bombings in Israel in 1969 that was the result of a coerced confession made after she was tortured and raped by Israeli military authorities. Odeh was originally arrested in 2012 for a twenty year old “naturalization fraud” charge that was “discovered” while Justice Department investigators were frustrated in their failure to charge or indict 23 Palestine activists in 2010 for “material support for terrorism.”
The Federal court of Appeals had sent the case back to Judge Drain’s court in February 2016 when they determined in the original trial Judge Drain prevented Odeh’s defense team from using a PTSD defense and a new trial was needed. As a way to win a case that they now believed was unwinnable if based only on “naturalization fraud,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade announced in December that a grand jury she impaneled returned a new, superseding indictment asserting that Odeh was involved in “terrorist activity” and was a member of a “designated terrorist organization” both grounds for revoking her citizenship. This new indictment came one month after the elected of President Trump and shortly before Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General.
But this is not a political case.
Odeh’s defense team believed with this new even more hostile prosecutorial environment, it would not be possible to get a fair trial. As Defense Attorney Michael Deutsch stated at an event for Odeh in Chicago before 1,200 of her supporters, “There was no guarantee that the Immigration authorities wouldn’t have jailed and then deported her even if we had won the case.”
On Thursday, Michael Deutsch was the first to speak in court and stressed that “anyone who was concerned with justice and was told this woman had been in the country for 20 years, beloved by members of her community, and given awards would have taken a step back…Someone who was concerned with justice would not have charged her with an immigration crime. This case should have never been brought.”
Prosecutor Jonathan Tukel spoke next immediately before Rasmea Odeh’s final statement, and said “I didn’t intend to say anything, but need to say she did commit acts of terrorism…It is so clear in the historical record and in the court record.”
But this is not a political case.
Rasmea Odeh began her statement, making clear who she was and whom she represented. (Her complete, uninterrupted, statement to the court can be found below and in multiple media reports.)
ON THIS COURT’S PLATFORM, I’M STANDING TODAY TO RAISE MY VOICE ON BEHALF OF MYSELF AS A PALESTINIAN WOMAN AND ON BEHALF OF ALL PALESTINIAN PEOPLE, WHETHER UNDER OCCUPATION, IN REFUGEE CAMPS, OR SCATTERED IN EXILE ACROSS THE WORLD.
Odeh did not get very far before Judge Drain interrupted her the first time. “This case is about you making false statements in immigration applications.”
Odeh interjected saying “This is my first and last chance to speak. Palestinians are not terrorists” and then continued with her prepared statement.
Odeh continued to tell the history of the UN conventions that say Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, questioning why like the early Americans, Palestinians are not given the right to fight for their independence, and that the US government has supported the Israeli occupation of Palestine by selling arms illegally to the Israeli government to use against the Palestinians. Judge Drain interrupted two more times saying “This is not important. This is not the place to talk about that.”
After Odeh said “This government must be held responsible for the Palestine occupation and the colonization of our country. Israel has no right to exist as an apartheid state,” Judge Drain interrupted the last time with a threat. “If you continue, I fill find you in contempt and you will find yourself locked up.”
Undeterred by this direct threat by the judge, Odeh concluded, “It was unjust they locked me in jail, tortured me, rapped me and destroyed my house. I will raise my voice to say we have the right to struggle for our country.”
Before his official sentencing, Judge Drain emphasized he didn’t believe PTSD prevented her from an answering the questions on the forms correctly and with a final jab at Odeh’s community sitting in the courtroom – “I recognize you have quite a few degrees, have helped people in Chicago, especially the Palestinian women who presumably came here legally [italics mine].” Members of the Arab Women ‘s Committee sitting the courtroom could only sit quietly and listen to this insulting insinuation.
But this is not a political case.
Judge Drain has a history of making prejudicial or insulting comments to Odeh and the people in her community.
In October of 2014, Judge Drain refused to allow testimony from the defense team’s expert witness that Odeh suffers from PTSD, but allowed the prosecution to present the specifics of Israeli accusations against her including information about the 1969 Jerusalem bombings she confessed to under torture. This was the decision that the Federal Court of Appeals overturned in February 2016 admonishing Judge Drain and the prosecution in the process.
Upon her guilty verdict in November 2014, Judge Drain stated, “Odeh doesn’t have ties to the Chicago community. She has apparently done good work at the Arab American Action Network, but that work is not a substantial tie to the community. She could do this in another country.” With those words, he wiped away Rasmea Odeh’s 20 years of work in Chicago being an advocate for Arab and Muslim women’s rights. The twenty Arab and Muslim women sitting in the front rows who had come to court as representatives of Odeh’s 800 member women’s group were erased as if they did not exist.
But this is not a political case.
Although there were times when Judge Drain resisted the prosecution’s continual attempt to paint Odeh as a terrorist and to deny her bail, in the end he returned to his earliest view that this was not a political case and that Odeh’s years of service to a community he didn’t seem to respect would not matter because she had filled out her naturalization forms incorrectly.
Rasmea Odeh was directed to report to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
agent Stephen Webber present in the courtroom for some yet undetermined period of time before she is deported.
The day in court concluded with a press conference and with Rasmea Odeh’s words to her many supporters “We will continue to struggle for Palestine.”
Rasmea Odeh’s Full Statement to the Court
On this court’s platform, I’m standing today to raise my voice on behalf of myself as a Palestinian woman and on behalf of all Palestinian people, whether under occupation, in refugee camps, or scattered in exile across the world.
Honorable Judge Drain: First, I would like to clarify that my following message is not directed at you personally.
I am a Palestinian woman who was born into a family that had simple dreams and desires to live in peace and tranquility, far away from bombs, explosions, murder, and displacement.
But those dreams turned into a nightmare at the hands of the Zionist Haganah gangs whose crimes are hard to imagine. The Zionists committed massacres, killing children and the elderly without any consideration of human values. They displaced hundreds of thousands of my people, and killed thousands more, in 1947 and 1948, upon the establishment of the state of Israel. They turned us into strangers in our own country, and pushed us into the inhumane conditions of refugee camps inside Palestine and other Arab countries.
The Israeli goals were not satisfied in 1948, so they pursued the ambitions of Zionism and launched another war in 1967, illegally occupying the rest of Palestine and parts of surrounding Arab countries.
International law prohibits the following practices, and considers them punishable offences:
The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a crime; its use of biological and chemical weapons is a terrorist crime; demolishing schools, homes, hospitals, clinics, and places of worship is a crime; imprisoning hundreds of political organizers and resisters (including dozens of children) without charge is a crime; putting up the Apartheid Wall is a crime; killing people is a crime; and collective punishment is a crime!
Many countries in this world have struggled to win their independence. International law and all the United Nations conventions state that people have the right to fight for their independence, and to expel the colonizer and the occupier.
People in the U.S. struggled against British colonialism for their independence, and that is the reason the 4th of July is celebrated. Why are the Palestinians prohibited from struggling for our independence?
When Palestinians have fought for our rights over the years, all U.S. administrations have responded by supporting Israeli crimes and brutal aggression, falsely describing Israel’s acts as “self-defense.” At the same time, the U.S. government calls us terrorists by placing all of our legitimate resistance organizations on its terrorist list!
I wonder how the U.S. or any other country would respond if they were invaded by a foreign force? If people in the U.S. were to defend themselves, would they be considered terrorists, and would their resistance organizations be placed on a terrorist list?
I am sure that they would have the full right to protect their country, just as my people should have the right to protect our country.
The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 prohibits the U.S. from exporting arms in situations where such arms would “…aid in the development of weapons of mass destruction… [or] increase the possibility of outbreak or escalation of conflict…,” and also prohibits use of such arms against civilians and innocents.
Thus, the U.S. government or any U.S. company violates the law if it exports weapons to a state or group that uses them in this way. The reality is that the U.S., as Israel’s patron, violates its own laws by supporting Zionist aggression. That means the U.S. is also guilty of crimes against the Palestinians.
This country’s military, political, economic, and diplomatic support allows Israel to continue its colonization and military occupation of Palestine, and to commit crimes prohibited by international law and U.S. law. That is why we organize for Palestinian rights in the U.S., because it is this government that must also be held responsible for Israel’s state terrorism against my people.
We, the Palestinians, have been struggling against oppression for one hundred years, ever since the British Balfour Declaration promised the world that it would support the colonization of our country. And for almost 70 years, the manufactured state of Israel has been doing the bidding of the powerful British and U.S. empires. This Israel has no right to exist as a racist state of white settler colonialists, just like South Africa had no right to exist as the racist, Apartheid state it was.
This Israel represents nothing but violence and ethnic cleansing against my people. Many years of negotiations for a political settlement have been a huge failure, because Israel continuously demands recognition as a Jewish state, which goes against all notions of equality and democracy; and because it wants to liquidate all the rights of the Palestinians, including our rights to return, self-determination, equality, and political independence.
Each Israeli government moves more and more to the extreme right, and Netanyahu’s is the worst of them, launching three horrible wars on Gaza. He destroyed homes, schools, health clinics, and our infrastructure as a whole, killing thousands, and finally imposing a siege on the entire Gaza Strip.
Recently, Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras at the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, prompting weeks of massive protests. Three Palestinians were killed, and a thousand injured, before Israel was forced by our mass movement to remove the barriers.
At the same time, Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians in Jerusalem, as well as settler violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, are official policies meant to force more and more Palestinians out of our country, and to consolidate Israeli control over Greater Jerusalem. It is quite clear that many, if not most, Israelis do not want Palestinians around at all.
I personally experienced a harsh, unstable, and terror-filled life in Palestine, like all my people under occupation. I was pushed off my land two separate times, my family home was destroyed twice, and my young sister was killed by the trauma of war. I was a political prisoner who was brutally tortured and raped by Israeli soldiers and prison authorities, and was almost killed more than once.
I continue to be terrified of the future for myself and my people. I can still almost feel the accelerated pounding of the people’s hearts while they are running to find shelter, the horrific screaming of the children, the moans of the people under the rubble of their homes, and the sounds of them dying from bombs, missiles, and bullets.
My people have the right to struggle to rid ourselves of the Israeli occupation of our country. The U.S. government must stop disavowing our rights, and stop working with the Israelis to prosecute activists and organizers here. Most of the people and governments in the rest of the world are with us. Millions of people are supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Black-Palestinian unity and solidarity is at its absolute height in the U.S., because both peoples recognize that the racist nature of the U.S. government and the racist nature of Israel are the same. When I saw those white racists marching in Virginia, all I could think of was the white settlers in Israel burning Palestinian children to death or marching to attack my people in Jerusalem.
Many of the social justice forces—from the Women’s March, the Movement for Black Lives, and anti-occupation and anti-Zionist American Jews, to immigrant rights, anti-torture, and civil liberties organizations—that supported my defense campaign did it not only because they support me as a survivor of torture and injustice, but also because they support the much more important cause of the liberation of all of Palestine—a democratic, secular Palestine for all.