3 April 2015

Palestinian Activist Rasmea Odeh: Overturn Conviction! No Deportation!

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

Capping a political witchhunt, on March 12 in Detroit, U.S. district court judge Gershwin Drain stripped Rasmea Odeh of her American citizenship and sentenced her to 18 months in prison to be immediately followed by deportation. A Chicago-based Palestinian activist and the associate director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Odeh was convicted last November of the bogus charge of “unlawful procurement of citizenship.” Her supposed crime was failing to disclose on her 2004 naturalization application a 1970 frame-up conviction by an Israeli military tribunal for alleged involvement in planting bombs at a supermarket and the British consulate in Jerusalem. The evidence for that conviction was a false confession secured through torture—a common practice of the Zionist military in the Occupied Territories.

Judge Drain, a President Obama appointee, blocked every effort by Odeh to mount an effective legal defense. While giving the prosecution wide latitude to use whatever evidence it wanted from Israeli documents, he derisively excluded evidence of “torture, rape and all that stuff.” The judge later ruled that Odeh’s attempts to present this evidence constituted “obstruction of justice.” Drain barred expert testimony that Odeh suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of her brutal treatment at the hands of the Israeli state. Part of Odeh’s defense was that the disorder caused her to omit her wrongful Israeli conviction when replying to the question on the naturalization form about prior imprisonment or arrest.

During sentencing, Drain repeatedly claimed that Odeh’s was not a “political case.” In fact, the Obama government’s prosecution of Odeh underscores how “anti-terrorism” has been a pretext for the capitalist rulers’ attacks on basic democratic rights and is ultimately aimed at the left and labor movement. Odeh came to the attention of the Feds during a 2010 “war on terror” witchhunt in Chicago and Minneapolis. The FBI raided the homes of several leftists and union activists, including supporters of the AAAN and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), for alleged “material support to terrorism”—in this case, support for the struggle for Palestinian national rights. Seeking to link Odeh’s AAAN with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular-nationalist organization designated by the U.S. State Department as “terrorist”, the Feds obtained thousands of documents from the Israeli government, some of which called Odeh’s 1970 conviction to their attention. As a result of those raids, some two dozen leftists still live with the fear of indictment hanging over their heads. Hands off the leftist activists!

“In 1967, Israel Destroys Everything”

Odeh and her family were among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced from their homes with the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel in 1948. Shortly after her birth, Odeh and her family fled their home near Jerusalem, settling in Ramallah in the West Bank, only to have the nightmare begin again in 1967 with the Israeli occupation of the area following the Six Day War against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. As she described at her sentencing hearing, “In 1967 Israel destroys everything.... There were bodies in the street, houses destroyed, and one part of our house destroyed.”

In 1969, the Israeli army of occupation rounded up 500 Palestinians, including Odeh and her father. During three weeks of detention, Odeh’s jailers beat her repeatedly, ultimately extracting a “confession” by threatening to force Odeh and her father to have sex. Her captors then raped Odeh with a wooden stick. In 1979, after ten years in prison, she was released in a prisoner swap. Later, Odeh obtained a law degree in Jordan, and in 1995 immigrated to the U.S., first living in Detroit before settling in Chicago. She has spent the last 20 years as a community organizer and activist.

Odeh’s case has sparked solidarity protests across the country. Palestinian activists and leftists, among them the reformist FRSO, packed Judge Drain’s courtroom and staged protests outside. Following her release pending appeal, the FRSO fatuously declared, “Victory as Rasmea Odeh Goes Home After Sentencing” (FightBack! News, 12 March). Expressing the FRSO’s view of the American capitalist state as neutral, FRSO member Joe Iosbaker, who was himself a target of the 2010 FBI raids, denounced her sentencing but went on to state that the Israeli army “brutally and sadistically tortured her into signing a confession.... In the U.S. we do not accept confessions signed through torture.” Perhaps Iosbaker never heard of Guantánamo, CIA torture or the many people who have been exonerated after being locked up based on false confessions extracted through cop torture.

While it is good that Odeh did not get the seven-year sentence the prosecutors sought, this outcome is hardly a victory for a woman who should not have spent one second in jail—in Israel or the U.S. Her looming deportation to Jordan is particularly ominous given Jordan’s well-known history of torturing Palestinian activists, not to mention the mass slaughter of Palestinians by the Jordanian monarchy in 1970. Our defense of Odeh is linked to our defense of the oppressed Palestinians, who have suffered for decades under the boot of Israeli occupation, as well as our opposition to the assault on democratic rights waged under the “war on terror.” Odeh’s prosecution is meant to chill dissent for those who speak out against Israeli and U.S. depredations. While we Marxist revolutionaries do not share Odeh’s Palestinian nationalist politics, we stress that an injury to one is an injury to all. We urge trade unions, civil liberties organizations and others to demand that her conviction be overturned and her citizenship reinstated. Funds are urgently needed for Odeh’s legal defense, to which the Partisan Defense Committee has contributed. Donations can be mailed to: Committee to Stop FBI Repression, PO Box 14183, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1065, 3 April 2015)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.