Rasmea Odeh, a 69-year-old Palestinian-American community leader based in Chicago, has accepted a plea agreement in a case that has deeply concerned some human rights advocates. In 2013, the federal government brought immigration fraud charges against Odeh, an activist with the Arab American Action Network. The prosecution alleged that she lied about a 1969 criminal conviction in Israel on her 1994 immigration application and her 2005 naturalization application. In November 2014, Odeh was found guilty of immigration fraud and subsequently sentenced to 18 months in prison and stripped of her U.S. citizenship.
Odeh appealed the decision claiming that the court had failed to hear evidence about the post-traumatic stress disorder she developed during weeks of rape and torture by Israeli police who were interrogating her about the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket. That violence, she said, led to a false confession. A torture expert, Mary Fabri, had concluded that Odeh suffered from PTSD, which may have affected her state of mind when she neglected to disclose the Israeli military court conviction on her citizenship application. In February 2016, an appeals court granted Odeh a new trial because of the lower court’s “categorical exclusion of PTSD-related evidence.”
In advance of the trial, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Michigan added a new charge against Odeh, claiming that she was a member of a “terrorist organization” and thus not admissible to the United States in the first place. The government alleged that she was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. Yesterday (March 24), Odeh accepted a plea agreement to deportation but no prison time. In a statement issued by the Rasmea Defense Committee, her supporters said that she would not have been given a fair trial given the current political climate in America:
“… the prospects for a fair trial are slimmer than ever. The prosecution team is now under the regime of racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a new superseding indictment re-frames this as a case about “terrorism” rather than immigration…As a Palestinian who has dedicated her life to the cause of liberation, it is impossible for Rasmea to expect a fair trial in U.S. courts.”
The Rasmea Defense Committee and human rights advocates have claimed from the start that Odeh’s prosecution is not about immigration fraud but about targeting those actively supporting Palestinian liberation. “The devastating situation that Rasmea is going through is the tip of the iceberg of what Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims are enduring in the United States,” says Noura Erakat, a law professor at George Mason University. ”Prosecutions such as the 20-year targeting of activists known as the Los Angeles 8, the clampdown on student organizations such as the recent decision by Fordham University to prevent the formation of a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, and the threats to the boycott, divestment and sanction movement are all part and parcel of a concerted attack against Palestinians and the Palestinian liberation and solidarity movement.”
Odeh’s plea agreement will be considered by a federal judge in Detroit shortly.