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Issue #1620      November 27, 2013

Support Palestinian-American community activist

In a blatant attack on Palestinian activism, respected Palestinian community leader, activist, educator and feminist Rasmea Odeh, 65, was arrested on October 22, 2013, at her home in Chicago by Department of Homeland Security agents and accused of “immigration fraud.” Among others the Palestine Solidarity Group (Chicago) has called on all Palestine solidarity activists to support Rasmea Odeh. Many Palestinian, Arab and other organisations are protesting against her arrest and calling on the US Attorney to drop the charges against her.

Rasmea Odeh.

Rasmea has been charged with obtaining naturalisation by fraud. She is accused of failing to disclose on her US citizenship application 20 years ago that she had a prior conviction. The conviction in question was in an Israeli military court 45 years ago – in which there is nothing resembling due process and coercion and torture are common – for involvement in two bombings in Jerusalem, one of which killed two civilians. She spent ten years in prison before receiving a pardon and being released by Israel as part of a prisoner exchange.

If convicted for this omission, the judge explained, Rasmea could face ten years in prison, an exorbitant fine and the trial court would “revoke, cancel and declare null and void” her United States citizenship certificate.

The US immigration service has a long history of using information on immigration forms to many years later deport political activists from various countries, including Ireland, Palestine and other Arab or Muslim countries.

Activists in the Palestine solidarity movement in Chicago have watched Rasmea work tirelessly over many years for the just rights of Palestinians and for all Arab women. They see her arrest as a part of a continuing campaign to intimidate, harass and suppress Palestine activism in the USA. A vindictive tactic used by the US government to try to stop the growing international movement in solidarity with Palestinian national rights, something ultimately that the US authorities will be unable to halt.

Palestinian activists critical of US policy toward Israel have not only been under surveillance, but have been actively targeted for repression. From the cases of the Holy Land Five, to Sami al-Arian, to the harassment of Students for Justice in Palestine groups, to the ongoing grand jury investigation of 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists, the repression has continued during the Obama administration. And Palestinians and their supporters know they can’t look to the Obama administration to be sympathetic to their activists or former political prisoners.

Rasmea Odeh’s arrest is just the latest attack on the entire Palestinian and Arab community and part of the ongoing repression of Palestine activists. Odeh has been a community leader fighting for Arab women’s and immigrant rights in the US for more than 20 years. Any attempt to demonise her for “immigration fraud,” threatening her with ten years in prison, and revoking her citizenship is nothing other than a cruel attempt to destroy not only a successful Arab community leader, but also a strong advocate for Palestinian rights.

Even by the dreadful standards of US immigration “justice”, the case of Rasmea Odeh has the appearance of an unusually appalling and political prosecution. A 65-year-old Palestinian and a naturalised US citizen since 2004, Odeh is Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago and coordinates the AAAN’s Arab Women’s Committee, with a membership of nearly 600. She received this year an Outstanding Community Leader Award from the Chicago Cultural Alliance, citing her 40 years in service “to the empowerment of Arab women, first in her homes of Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon, where she was an activist and practicing attorney, and then the past ten years in Chicago.”

Released on $15,000 bond, Odeh’s case will be tried in Detroit (where she received her US citizenship). At her November 13 arraignment, a hundred supporters demanded “Drop the Charges,” including a busload of people who came in from Chicago and packed the courtroom while others chanted and marched outside.

Her arrest seems closely related to the case of the 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists that were subpoenaed to a grand jury in 2010. Well known labour, community and international solidarity activists around the US Midwest had their homes raided by the FBI when the US Attorney alleged that they had provided material support to alleged foreign terrorist organisations in Palestine and Colombia. The majority of the 23 people targeted in the grand jury investigation are Palestinian activists, but none of the 23 people have ever been charged with any offence.

Arab American Action Network statement

“The Arab American Action Network (AAAN) condemns the politically-motivated arrest and indictment of Rasmea Yousef Odeh, our beloved Associate Director. The 65-year-old was arrested at her home by agents from the Department of Homeland Security, alleging an immigration violation on a 20-year-old application. Rasmea, who has made it her life’s work to serve and help empower Palestinian and Arab families, is the victim of another witch-hunt by our federal law enforcement agencies, which continue to violate the civil rights of Arabs and Muslims with impunity, particularly those who are critical of US support for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.

“Rasmea is a leading member of Chicago’s Arab and Muslim communities, and her decade of service here has changed the lives of thousands of people, particularly disenfranchised Arab women and their families. She has been with the AAAN since 2004, and as Associate Director, is responsible for the management of day-to-day operations and the coordination of our Arab Women’s Committee, which has a membership of close to 600 and leads our work in the areas of defending civil liberties and immigrant rights.

“She is a mentor to hundreds of immigrant women, as well as many members of our staff and board, and is a well-known and respected organiser throughout Chicago and the US and the world.

“Rasmea is a community icon who recently completed a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Governors State University. She overcame vicious torture by Israeli authorities while imprisoned in Palestine in the ’70s, and is a proud reminder of the millions of Palestinians who have not given up organising for their rights of liberation, equality, and return.

“It is appalling that our government is now attempting to imprison her once again. We condemn this attack on our friend and colleague Rasmea, as well as the broader pattern of persecuting Arabs and Muslims who are outstanding and outspoken leaders in their communities in the US.”

United African Organisation statement

“Leaders and members of the United African Organisation (UAO) stand in solidarity with Sister Rasmea Yousef Odeh, Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network. Together, we express our unflinching support for this remarkable advocate and distinguished leader whose passion for public service and dedication to community empowerment embody the highest ideals of American democratic values.

“As a champion of human rights and dignity for all people, Sister Rasmea gives voice to the aspirations of the vulnerable and marginalised with a principled focus on building bridges among diverse constituencies and promoting the vision of an inclusive, just and tolerant society. She is a respected and selfless leader who enjoys a deep sea of admiration in the African, Arab, Asian, Latino and faith communities in Illinois.

“Our support for Sister Rasmea stems from our intimate knowledge of her inspiring and demonstrable record over the years in promoting citizenship and civic engagement, as well as providing programmatic management of vital social services in the Arab and Muslim community.

“We hope and pray that Sister Rasmea will continue to serve her beloved community in peace and dignity! She is not a threat to anyone, and her work here encapsulates her commitment to Dr Martin Luther King’s call to serve and support each other in the interwoven fabric of our common destiny as Americans.”

A number of Rasmea Odeh’s supporters, including civil rights groups, faith-based institutions, Arab organisations, women’s rights activists and civil liberties attorneys have attended the protests. They have accused the authorities of targeting Odeh, who was well-known for her work in the field of women’s rights with the Chicago Cultural Alliance, just because of her Palestinian origin.

Her attorney Michael Deutsch said that the Department of Homeland Security was “behaving in a discriminatory fashion, targeting Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians for selective prosecution.” He also mentioned that her close friend and colleague Hatem Abudayyeh was among 23 Palestinian Americans whose home was raided by police for supporting the Palestinian cause in 2010.

Deutsch also accused the US government of working closely with Israeli officials who were targeting Palestinian Americans in this manner, and questioned why Odeh was being charged “after 20 years of model citizenship and good deeds in service of her community.”

According to Hatem Abudayyeh, almost 100 organisations in the US have written letters or signed statements condemning Odeh’s indictment. “There is no justification for this political attack on a 65-year-old woman who has dedicated her life to progress and social justice. We will stand with her to fight these charges.”

The case of Rasmea Odeh is really about political repression against Palestinian activists that are working effectively in solidarity with Palestine. Everyone concerned about justice and human rights should express support for Rasmea Odeh and urge the dropping of charges against her.

Sources:
Samidoun, Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Fight Back News Service and Students for a Democratic Society.

For more information and to take action contact:
stopfbi.net, or visit Facebook page: “Drop the Charges Against Rasmea Now!”.

Sign the petition to drop the charges against Rasmea: iacenter.org/rasmeaodehpetition

Have your organisation sign or write a solidarity statement (email to: stopfbi@gmail.com)

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