On 19 September, Palestinian former political prisoner and beloved community leader Rasmea Odeh was forced to leave the United States after years of attacks by the FBI and the Department of Justice. She was sent off with the love, solidarity and admiration of hundreds of people who were present with her at O’Hare airport in Chicago as well as in the thoughts and hearts of thousands more across the United States and around the world.
The collective send-off for Odeh was organized by the Rasmea Defense Campaign, led by the US Palestinian Community Network and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. An earlier community farewell for Rasmea in Chicago, featuring Angela Davis, scholar, Black Liberation movement figure and former political prisoner, drew 1,200 people.
Speakers at the farewell included Hatem Abudayyeh of USPCN, Frank Chapman of the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, representatives of Anakbayan, JVP Chicago and a number of other organizations. “We will liberate Palestine because of the Rasmea Odehs of the world,” said Abudayyeh.
Odeh herself addressed the group. “They began to destroy my life but I want to tell you, I am strong, they will not destroy me,” she said. “Even if they deport me out of this country, I will continue our struggle.” ICE blocked her supporters from entering the airport to walk with her to check-in and security after several hours of rallying outside the entrance to O’Hare’s international terminal.
Crowds of friends and family awaited Odeh in Amman, Jordan after a 12-hour flight from Chicago, embracing her and welcoming her.
Odeh, 70, fought strongly and bravely against an immigration case brought against her in October 2013. A survivor of severe sexual torture at the hands of Israeli occupation forces who arrested and imprisoned her in 1969, she served 10 years in Israeli prison before winning her freedom in a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1979.
Her story was told before the United Nations and in London’s Sunday Times in 1979; she was well-known as a former political prisoner and torture survivor. After coming to the United States in 1994, she became a community leader in Chicago, founding the Arab Women’s Committee of the Arab American Action Network and organizing hundreds of Palestinian and Arab women throughout the city.
The attack on Odeh came as the culmination of an ongoing attack on the Palestinian community and Palestine solidarity movements in the United States, including a series of raids and grand jury subpoenas against anti-war and social justice activists in Chicago and Minnesota carried out after an FBI agent infiltrated organizations mobilizing against the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008.
After the case against the activists fell apart, the Department of Justice next moved on to Odeh, beloved Palestinian leader and torture survivor, re-victimizing her in court and attempting to portray her as a “terrorist” for resisting Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. In 2017, she reached a plea agreement after the DoJ refiled the case in a “terror” framework after Odeh’s appellate victory allowing her to introduce evidence of her PTSD that was earlier excluded at trial.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Rasmea Odeh, lifelong struggler for Palestine, its people and its liberation, with deepest respect and honor. She has left a deep imprint on the Palestinian community, the Palestine solidarity movement and all movements fighting racism, imperialism, colonialism and oppression in the United States and internationally. From Lifta to Chicago to Amman, she remains a leader and a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness, resilience, resistance and commitment to true liberation and justice. She is on the front lines of the ongoing march towards return and liberation.