The U.S. government has waged a “War on Terror” since 9/11. Actually it’s a war on dissent — one that includes systematically trying to silence, intimidate and criminalize those who speak out for Palestinian rights. The latest target is Rasmea Odeh, a 67-year-old Palestinian-American and award-winning activist for women’s rights. In November she was convicted on a phony charge and faces a possible sentence of 10 years in prison, loss of citizenship and deportation.
Meet Rasmea Odeh. Born in Lifta, Palestine, Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the ’60s. Commenting on her work, Odeh said, “In Palestine, we helped women face a difficult political situation. We taught them how to deal [with challenges], how to live.”
Arrested in 1969 by the Israeli military, Odeh was beaten, tortured for 45 days, raped with sticks, denied food and sleep, and forced to watch her father tortured. Under these conditions, she “confessed” to the charge of bombing a supermarket. After a decade in prison, she was released in a prisoner exchange and eventually emigrated to the U.S.
In Chicago, Odeh became the associate director of the Arab American Action Network and founded the Arab Women’s Committee. She is proud of helping develop Arab women’s leadership and “empowering immigrant women to know their civil and human rights. Social work and political work are connected,” she says, “… we have to confront all the problems of inequality in this society.”
Discrediting dissent. Odeh is now being targeted by the U.S. government under the Obama administration. In October 2013 she was charged with falsifying immigration forms by omitting her jailing in Israel. The judge in her trial wouldn’t allow her torture history into the courtroom, but welcomed whatever the Israeli government had to say.
The prosecutor painted Odeh’s defense committee and the outpouring of support for her as “almost certainly criminal” and “hordes” engaged in “jury tampering.” What it really comes down to is a racist attack on civil liberties and an attempt to repress all dissidents. Odeh’s supporters have vigorously mobilized for her release — by organizing rallies, picket lines, educationals, phone calls and petitions.
Odeh’s case proves a pattern of harassment. It grew out of a 2010 FBI investigation of 23 Palestinian, leftist and anti-war activists in the Midwest (including one of Odeh’s coworkers) that violated First Amendment rights. No charges could be filed, so the FBI is determined to get Odeh.
On Nov. 10, 2014, Odeh was handed a guilty verdict of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, and immediately jailed! She told reporters, “It was a racist verdict.” Her sentencing is scheduled for March 2015.
The struggle is far from over. Odeh will undoubtedly file an appeal. As of this writing, her defense committee is mobilizing to win her release on bond, urging letters to the judge and protests at federal buildings.
What’s at stake? In fear of rising domestic and worldwide opposition to Israel’s genocidal policies against Palestinians, the U.S. government views Odeh’s struggle as a threat. Her work helps expose Zionist crimes against Palestinians, especially Palestinian women, as well as U.S. collusion with those crimes. As the political and financial lifeline to the criminal Zionist regime, the U.S. is bound to apply cruel Israeli policies against Palestinians in this country.
The lived experiences of Rasmea Odeh also draws attention to crucial struggles we all face today — sexual assault as political weaponry; the impact of war and militarization; increased criminalization of women of color; abuse of immigrants; anti-Arab and Muslim bigotry; police-state measures to quell opposition to U.S. domestic and foreign policies.
Odeh’s future is on the line. So is the political right of every U.S. resident to protest and organize. A victory for the government would endanger Odeh’s very life and be a terrible blow to all progressive forces in the USA. To help, contact Committee to Stop FBI Repression at stopfbi.net.
Robin Strauss is a social worker and activist in New York City. Send feedback to RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com.