A Palestinian woman and well-respected organizer in Chicago has been charged with lying to immigration authorities about her background when she applied for citizenship in the United States. If convicted, she faces the possibility of being imprisoned for up to 10 years and being deported.
Rasmieh Odeh, who is 66 years-old, was arrested by Department of Homeland Security agents during the morning of October 22. She was brought before US Magistrate Judge Mason. Mason released her on $15,000 cash bond. She was ordered to appear in federal court by November 1 in Detroit, where she first lived.
Odeh has a past history with Palestinian resistance fighters engaged in militant activities against the Israeli occupation. According to the indictment against her, she was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which the US designated as a terrorist organization in 1995.
US government officials maintain lying on immigration documents poses risks to national security, but that does not explain why the government is bringing this case against Odeh now.
Joe Iosbaker, an antiwar organizer with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, had his home raided by the FBI in September 2010. Iosbaker, his wife and 21 others in the Midwest have been under a grand jury investigation for three years. They've refused to appear before a grand jury for questioning, but the Justice Department has not issued any indictments. It has instead kept the cloud of an investigation hanging over the heads of these activists as agents continue to search for evidence of material support for terrorism in the antiwar and international solidarity work with Colombians and Palestinians.
Iosbaker suspects the case against Odeh is connected to this investigation.
"We have been aware that the US Attorney in Chicago has not dropped the case against the 23 antiwar activists," Iosbaker told Firedoglake. "This has been confirmed, reconfirmed and reconfirmed for us throughout the three years since we were subpoenaed and refused to appear before the grand jury."
"Here is a woman, a longtime activist in the Palestinian community, who has been living in the United States for twenty years. She's been a model citizen contributing and serving her community. And, suddenly, ten years after she received citizenship, they scrutinize her," Iosbaker stated. "They never would have looked at her at all had it not been for their investigation of the 23 antiwar activists, including Hatem Abudayyeh, who is her co-worker."
The Israeli government arrested and imprisoned Odeh on March 1, 1969. She was arrested for her involvement, with four other individuals, in bombings that occurred in February 1969 (one in a supermarket in Jerusalem and the other in the courtyard of the British Consulate). Two were apparently killed in the supermarket.
She and the four others were charged with crimes related to the bombings by the Israeli Defense Forces and convicted by a military court known to have a history of depriving Palestinians due process rights. She served more than 10 years in prison before the Israeli government released her to Lebanon "as part of a prisoner exchange with the PFLP."
Odeh came to the US 20 years ago. She became a naturalized citizen after 10 years. In the time that she's been in the US, she has focused on community organizing.
Abudayyeh, the director of the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, said she's been the associate director at AAAN since 2004 and has been responsible for day-to-day operations. He said she's been the coordinator of an Arab women's committee that has focused on leadership development, organizing, training and consciousness raising in the realms of civil liberties and immigrant rights.
Odeh has done a "lot of personal and political empowerment work," he added. She has continued refugee work she started in Lebanon and Jordan. She has built off her history as a practicing attorney in Jordan, who focused on women's rights. She is a "stalwart and an icon in the community," someone who is well-known across the Arab and Muslim communities of Chicago, according to Abudayyeh.
Like Iosbaker, he sees a connection between the investigation against him and 22 other activists. Assistant US Attorney Barry Jonas, who has been in charge of the investigation into the activists, was present in the courtroom when Odeh came before the judge.
"She's a prominent Palestinian organizer and activist," Abudayyeh declared. "She's being targeted because she's a Palestinian. She's being targeted because she's an Arab. She's being targeted because of who she is and what she represents," which is years of organizing and activism on behalf of social justice and the rights of Palestinians.