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A New Day for Rasmea Odeh: Throwing the Spotlight on Israeli Torture

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"What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?" wrote the late poet and biographer Muriel Rukeyser: "The world would split open." And what would happen if the one woman telling the truth were Palestinian, and she was blowing the whistle about systematic torture of Palestinian prisoners, including the rape of woman under Israeli custody?

Meet Rasmea Odeh. Odeh is a 67-year-old Chicago-based Palestinian community leader. She immigrated to the US in 1994 and received her United States citizenship in 2004. Since that time she has worked diligently and effectively with community organizations that provide crucial care and support for immigrant women.

Odeh is the associate director of the Chicago-based Arab-American Action Network and a founder of the Arab Women's Committee, which provides ESL, social services, civil rights education and leadership training to over 800 immigrant and refugee women in the Windy City. She is also a convicted felon.

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In October 2013 Rasmea was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of one count of unlawful procurement of naturalization (of her US citizenship). A few months prior to her arrest by Homeland Security, she received the Outstanding Community Leader Award from the Chicago Cultural Alliance for her work with Arab-Americans, women in particular.

The details behind Odeh's arrest go to the heart of the matter of an ongoing relationship between the US and Israel -- a national security collaboration that allows the Israelis to push forward with a policy that can only be described as ethnic cleansing. The policy's core is seizing Palestinian land by any means necessary, while supporting an expanding settlers' movement. Illegal arrest, imprisonment, and torture are tools used daily by Israeli occupiers to quell Palestinian resistance to the seizure of their land, house by house and acre by acre.

On February 25, Rasmea Odeh was granted an appeal for a possible new trial. I sat down with Lina Baroudi, a staff attorney for the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) to talk about the details of the case. AROC is a partner organization with the Arab-American Action Network where Rasmea Odeh is associated. They are working together on a national defense committee. Let's begin in occupied Palestine.

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Dennis Bernstein: Please explain how Rasmea Odeh's treatment as a Palestinian woman by Israeli forces began.

Lina Baroudi: In October 2013 Rasmea was charged with one count of unlawful procurement of naturalization, which is US citizenship. She is accused of failing to report a prior conviction on her naturalization application, which was filed in 2004. The accusation is related to her conviction by an Israeli military court more than 45 years ago and her subsequent imprisonment for 10 years in an Israeli prison.

DB: Ten years, 45 years ago.

Baroudi: Absolutely. She is one of the few women who have publicly spoken about the brutal, sexual, psychological, and physical torture Palestinian prisoners endure at the hands of the Israeli government. That torture is what ultimately led to her coerced confession and conviction, a conviction she been very public about and has testified about before the United Nations.

DB: It took them 10 years to come after Rasmea Odeh for this one count: How do you explain the timing? There must have been somebody pushing for this in the US.

Baroudi: Yes. The immigration charge was a pretext to attack Rasmea as an icon of the Palestine Liberation Movement. She's been long involved with that movement in the US and the case against her grew out of an investigation of 23 anti-war and Palestinian community organizers in Chicago and Minneapolis in 2010, all of whom were subpoenaed to a Grand Jury but were never ultimately charged with anything.

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DB: This is how they came back to her.

Baroudi: Exactly.

DB: She went from a respected community leader to handcuffs and jail. There must be multiple sufferings as a result.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)
 

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