Private: Palestinian-American icon inspires hope despite grim outcome
Judge Gershwin A. Drain’s courtroom was filled to capacity with anxious supporters as Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian-American icon and community leader, was found guilty on one count of unlawful procurement of naturalization.
Hope was lost but only for a moment. Seconds after the jury left the room and hearts sank, Odeh turned around and said to her supporters, “Someday we will find fairness in some place in the world.”
Odeh, her lawyers and supporters have been fighting for more than a year to prove Odeh did not knowingly lie on her immigration documents. She was arrested in 2013 for failing to disclose her conviction by an Israeli military court for allegedly participating in a bombing in Jerusalem in 1969. Odeh maintain
The United States prosecuted and convicted a 67-year-old woman, who was tortured and sexually assaulted for 25 days in an Israeli military prison more than 40 years go. Palestinians who come before an Israeli military court are convicted 99 percent of the time. Judge Drain shocked everyone in the courtroom by commenting on the jury’s verdict.
“I don’t normally comment on verdicts, but in this case I will: I think it’s a fair and reasonable one based on the evidence that came in,” Drain said.
Based on the evidence that wasn’t admitted, it is hard not to disagree with Drain. He did not allow Odeh to testify about her torture and conviction by an Israeli military court, but did allow documents from an Israeli military court about her conviction to be used as evidence. The prosecution mentioned the bombing tens of times during her trial, smearing her character and making a fair trial nearly impossible.
“And although there is real anger and disappointment in the jury’s verdict, it was known as early as October 27 that she would not get a full and fair trial,” a Rasmea Odeh Defense Committee statement read.
Jonathan Tukle, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Odeh, motioned to remove her bond and take her into custody immediately. Drain approved the motion because of “risk of flight.” The judge ruled that Odeh did not have family in the US and that her work with the Arab American Action Network was not enough of a reason for her to stay.
Anger and sadness followed immediately, with many of the supporters saying among themselves that they were indeed Rasmea Odeh’s family. It was as if everyone in the courtroom lost a sister or an aunt. Hope again was on the fringe of breaking. Then Odeh spoke again:
“I am strong. Don’t worry about me. I love you all,” she said to the packed courtroom as she was led away.
During the 20 years Rasmea Odeh has been in the United States, she went from volunteering at the AAAN to becoming the assistant director of the organization. She also started a women’s committee that has more than 600 Arab women as members and received “too many” awards for her amazing work as an activist.
She’s been the associate director of the AAAN for more then 10 years and has been responsible for working with Arab women on issues such as learning the English language, gender violence, racial profiling, immigrant rights and access to social and economical resources.
But she hasn’t just been doing this for the last 10 years in Chicago; Odeh has empowered women for more than 40 years in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon.
She’s easily an icon. There isn’t a doubt about how much Rasmea Odeh is revered and respected by everyone in the community.
“We can find the justice in some place. Maybe not in this court, maybe in another place, there’s a justice in this world we will find it!” Odeh said to her supporters outside the courthouse soon after being convicted.
Tens of people drove in the middle of the night to make sure they were there for Odeh on Nov. 10. Each of them was devastated and many of them tweeted out their dismay.
Odeh asked her supporters to remain strong despite her conviction and because of that the movement has only grown stronger. Immediately after her arrest, supporters demonstrated outside the courthouse then proceeded to march throughout downtown Detroit. Her defense committee has already planned an emergency protest for Nov. 12 outside the Federal Building in downtown Chicago. A social media campaign with the twitter hashtag #FreeRasmeaNow is underway.
At least 75 people made it out to each of her court dates. They made it out because of her strength and commitment to justice. They also made it out because leaders of her defense committee like Hatem Abudayyah, Muhammad Sankari, Nesreen Hasan and Jess Sundin who worked extremely hard on her case and the mobilization efforts.
Odeh will be in custody until her sentencing hearing on March 10. A decision that broke almost everyone’s heart.
Despite the obvious disappointment, the fight to free the Palestinian-American iconic community leader from this unjust imprisonment and ruling has already begun. Deutsch will file for an appeal and her defense committee will continue to mobilize support.
“It has been one of the great privileges of my long legal career to represent this extraordinary woman of great passion and dignity,” Deutsch said to the jury. Then he described the magnitude of their decision before they left to deliberate. “A bird of justice, a bird of truth, a bird of redemption is in your hands. You can open your hands. You can throw it down and crush it into dust or you can open your hands and let that bird soar back to Chicago.”
The judge, the jury and the prosecution seemed one sided and have delayed justice, but Odeh has empowered hundreds who will not allow the Nov. 10 conviction to break their will to free Odeh. Rasmea Odeh may not be able to roam freely tonight, but her ideas, strength, love and commitment will be always be visible in those she impacted during her decades of activism.