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Palestinian American leader Rasmea Odeh heading to trial

By Joe Iosbaker

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Chicago, IL – Rasmea Odeh, the well-known activist in the Palestinian community of Chicago and target of persecution by the U.S. government, goes on trial Nov. 4.

Charged with immigration fraud, the case against her is based on the grounds that, in her application for citizenship ten years ago, she didn’t mention that she was arrested in Palestine 45 years ago. Her arrest was at the hands of the Israeli defense forces, which had illegally seized Palestinian territory. She was raped and tortured by her captors, and forced to sign a confession to stop the abuse. Then an Israeli military court found her guilty without due process and gave her a life sentence. She was released after ten years in a prisoner exchange.

Why does the Department of Justice uphold decisions made by Israel’s military court? The U.S. has a history of condemning military courts in other countries. And when President Obama recently spoke at the U.N., he lectured other world leaders that it was unacceptable today to occupy another nation’s land. Why doesn’t that apply to Israel’s occupation of Palestine?

U.S. backing of Israeli occupation

The U.S. government has always spoken out of both sides of its mouth. U.S. presidents tell the Palestinians they deserve their own state, but refuse to stop Israel’s thousands of illegal settlements in Palestinian areas. The Obama administration warns against countries that defy the ‘international community,’ but has vetoed almost every single United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

There’s no denying what is happening: Israel serves the interests of the U.S. elites in the Middle East. The Israeli regime couldn’t exist without the $3 billion a year in military aid it receives from the U.S. It serves the Pentagon as a landlocked aircraft carrier. The aid – and the unjust occupation of Palestine – are the price the U.S. is willing to pay to hold down the Arab and other peoples of the Middle East.

Standing with Israel is a constant refrain from every politician in Washington. For Rasmea Odeh, this means that U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade’s office accepts the stance of the kangaroo court in Israel that convicted her.

Defeat of Judge Borman

The first judge assigned to hear her case was Paul Borman. Borman had many ties to Israel, having helped raise millions to support the apartheid government there. A campaign by the Rasmea Defense Committee called for Borman to recuse himself. At first refusing, he gave in when it was exposed that his family had partial ownership of the grocery store that was the target of the bombing that Rasmea was forced to confess to. This was a huge embarrassment for the federal court, which always denies that decisions are affected one way or the other by politics.

Borman’s recusal was a victory which rallied the spirits of Rasmea and her many supporters. It proved to the movement for justice for Rasmea and for Palestine that if we fight, we can win. It shows us that a great legal defense is required, but so is a group of supporters packing the courtroom each time Rasmea is there.

Judge Gershwin Drain

On Oct. 2, Rasmea appeared before the new judge, Gershwin Drain, where attorneys presented numerous motions. The first decision by Drain was not good. Attorney Michael Deutsch argued that the charges against Rasmea should be dismissed, showing how the case against her began with the illegal investigation of the group of 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists who were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in 2010. Drain agreed with the prosecution’s counter-argument, that the defense hadn’t proven its case.

Tom Burke of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) commented, “The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit its own crimes. It’s a fact that hundreds of Arabs and Muslims have been targeted by successive administrations only for being Arab or Muslim, or for loving their own people. The raids and subpoenas of the anti-war and international solidarity activists in 2010 were violations of our First Amendment rights.”

Although that decision went against Odeh, Hatem Abudayyeh of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) said, “Rasmea, her lawyers and her supporters sent a message to the court that there is a pattern of the Department of Justice abusing those involved in Palestine support work.”

Latest twist: Attack on our right to fight back

In early October, Prosecutor Jonathan Tukel launched an attack on the Rasmea Defense Committee and Hatem Abudayyeh. Tukel accused Rasmea’s supporters of jury tampering. He alleged that the rallies involving members of the Palestinian community and anti-war activists are “almost certainly criminal.” Tukel is asking for an “anonymous jury” – keeping the names of the jury secret from the public and from Rasmea’s defense attorneys. Tukel used an anonymous jury for the trial of the Underwear Bomber in 2009. The meaning of his motion could not be more clear: Odeh and her supporters are dangerous to the members of the jury.

This would be laughable if the impact wasn’t so terrible. In fact, this is an effort by the prosecution to tamper with the jury. Making jurors and prospective jurors operate in secret makes them think that they are in danger.

There is nothing violent in the efforts of her defense campaign. The only violence that impacts this trial is the inhumane brutality with which the Israeli military treated Odeh in 1969. With each passing day, more people and organizations that support civil liberties are adding their voices to oppose this latest move.

‘I believe that we will win’

This attack by the office of U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade points to one other thing: the movement that supports Rasmea is putting Israel on trial. Especially after the international outcry that responded to the massacres in Gaza this summer, Israel is seen worldwide as the brutal, apartheid regime that it is. Most people hear the ring of truth when they are told that Rasmea was viciously abused at the hands of Israel.

On Oct. 2, in front of the court house in Detroit, Muhammad Sankari of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network led Rasmea’s friends and neighbors in chanting, “I believe we will win.” One of the Palestinian women supporters raised her voice louder and said, “I believe we are winning.” It appears that McQuade and Tukel fear that to be true, and are acting to put an end to the trial in the court of public opinion, and are attempting to rig the outcome of the legal proceeding as well. The rising movement of support for Palestine – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign, the efforts for an arms embargo to stop companies like Boeing that provide the killing tools to Israel, the campus movement to defend critics of Israel like Professor Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois and the massive marches like those in Chicago that mobilized to halt the slaughter in Gaza – is in fact winning.

All out for Detroit

A major mobilization Is underway to pack the courtroom during Odeh’s Nov. 4 trial. “People from around the country will be coming to Detroit to support Rasmea. We will stand with her at her trial and demand Justice,” stated Jess Sundin of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

#ChicagoIL #Chicago #JessSundin #TomBurke #politicalRepression #RasmeaOdeh #StevenSalaita