Rasmea Odeh is fighting for her citizenship and for her freedom. She is scheduled to appear in federal court in Detroit today on charges of “unlawful procurement of naturalization.”
As her supporters emphasize, her arrest and prosecution are politically motivated and are clearly designed to disrupt the Chicago Palestine human rights community.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 2013, Homeland Security agents arrested the 67-year-old Odeh, an American of Palestinian origin, at her home in the suburbs of Chicago.
On the same morning she was indicted in federal court, based on responses to questions posed on a 10-year-old naturalization application. Odeh has been an American citizen for the last decade.
Only now, when the Chicago activist community has effectively raised awareness of Israel’s apartheid system and its violation of international laws, have immigration authorities decided to challenge her status as a citizen. In light of success of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign, this case reeks of political payback.
Federal authorities allege that Odeh did not disclose her arrest in Palestine 45 years ago by an Israeli military court, an institution that has a long record of human rights violations.
At that time of her arrest, Odeh was forced into a confession while being subjected to physical and sexual torture, some of it perpetrated in front of her now deceased father.
Odeh never committed a crime, and her arrest and conviction by an Israeli military court was unlawful.
Odeh is not the only Chicago activist who has been targeted in the recent period. In 2010 anti-war activists — several from the Chicago area — were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury about their support of Palestinians and Colombians.
It is revealing that Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas, who is leading the investigation of the 23 activists, was in the courtroom on the morning Odeh was arrested, actively consulting with the assistant U.S. attorney who presented her case.
Jonas has an even longer history of targeting Palestinians. He was the prosecutor in the case of the Holy Land Five, who were the heads of the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. before 9/11. He succeeded in getting inordinately long prison sentences for the five men, who provided charity to children in Gaza.
The conviction of the Holy Land Five was based on “secret evidence,” withheld from the defense and on the testimony of Israeli witnesses in disguise.
Targeting 67-year-old Odeh at this point, 10 years after she received her citizenship, appears to be retaliation for the growing successes of the Palestine solidarity movement. Her case is being tried in federal court instead of immigration court, where such cases are normally heard.
She faces 10 years in prison as well as the revocation of her citizenship and deportation.
For decades, Odeh has been an upright and contributing member of her community.
She has worked with the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network, an advocacy and social service agency, supervising programs and coordinating its Arab Women’s Committee, a 600-member group that actively defends civil liberties and immigrant rights.
Targeting a person who has been such an active proponent for positive change is a serious setback for civil rights and militates against democracy and justice.
The time has come for progressive people to demand that Barry Jonas and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Chicago and Detroit cease their witch hunts of the Palestine solidarity communities and end political prosecutions, which undermine the constitutionally protected right to dissent.
As a person with first-hand knowledge of the devastation wrought by politically motivated prosecutions — during the era of COINTELPRO, I was falsely charged with three capital offenses — I see Rasmea Odeh’s case as a continuation of the embarrassing history of decades of suppression of social justice activists in the U.S.
The courts are being used to retaliate against Palestinian activism. As many people in Chicago and Detroit once joined the call to “Free Angela Davis,” I hope they will now join the campaign to “Free Rasmea Odeh.”
Angela Davis is a renowned activist and distinguished professor emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz.