The activist vowed to continue her struggle for justice and the liberation of Palestine despite facing deportation and an uncertain future.
Rasmea Odeh, the former Palestinian revolutionary with the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was detained and tortured by Israeli forces for over a decade, is set to be deported from the United States, where she has lived for more than 23 years.
In a plea agreement she accepted at the end of March in her three-year battle with the United States over alleged “immigration fraud,” Odeh is to be deported sometime within the next few months.
In her recent speech at the Jewish Voice for Peace’s national conference on Sunday, Odeh spoke of her deportation, saying that despite it, she will continue to organize wherever she ends up.
“I was an infant during the Nakba, the 1948 catastrophe in Palestine,” she began. “Now I face a similar Nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the U.S. — the relationships, the memories and all the people I know and love, especially the women of Chicago’s Arab community.”
She talked at length of her most recent struggles in the wake of the election of U.S. President Donald Trump — of participating in the Women’s Day March, the Day With Without a Woman strikes, as well as being a part of the contingent that shut down Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in Chicago during Trump’s first travel ban.
“I am going to have to leave the life I have built for more than a decade at some point in the next few months. I am going to have to leave Chicago and all the beautiful people who have welcomed me so warmly to this country and this city. But I will still be organizing wherever I end up,” she said.
“And I’ll be watching developments in the U.S. very closely, because besides Palestine, this is the main front of the battle for the liberation of my homeland. And liberation we will win.”
Odeh’s plea agreement, which will strip her of her U.S. citizenship, is still being celebrated by her supporters in the Rasmea Defense Committee. The decision, they said, was difficult to accept, but is a victory given that the U.S. government had originally intended to sentence Odeh up to seven years in prison.
In November 2014, Odeh was found guilty of immigration fraud for failing to declare on her immigration and citizenship applications her conviction in an Israeli military court in 1969. While she was initially sentenced to 18 months in prison, revocation of her U.S. citizenship and deportation, a U.S. appeals court threw out that verdict in February 2015. The court ruled that the trial made the error of not allowing Odeh to call an expert witness to testify about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder from the brutal torture and rape she suffered while detained by Israeli authorities.
The lifelong activist’s defense attorneys argued that PTSD affected her mental state when she filled out her citizenship application back in 2004. A new trial, in turn, was granted to her to include expert testimony on her PTSD.
During her trial, however, the U.S. government filed new charges based on her involvement with the PFLP — which Washington labels as a “terrorist organization.”
At 19-years-old, Odeh was arrested by Israeli authorities in 1969 in Jerusalem for her connections to two PFLP bombings in which two people were killed. While in an Israeli prison, she was beaten with wooden sticks, metal bars, open hands and fists and kicked with booted feet. She was also denied sanitary supplies while menstruating, prevented from using a washroom, denied regular sleep and left naked most of the time, often in front of male guards. One guard punched her repeatedly on her ears, which resulted in her hearing being impaired for two years.
At one point, the Electronic Intifada reported, Odeh was forced to watch the torture of a detained man, where guards connected the man’s genitals to electrical wires that electrocuted and eventually killed him. Odeh was later subject to these same electric shocks, with the wires attached to her genitals, breasts, abdomen, arms and legs.
Odeh was finally forced to sign a confession when guards brought in her father and ordered him to have sex with her. But according to an affidavit from clinical psychologist Mary Fabri, which detailed her PTSD, even after Odeh signed the confession, the torture did not stop.
Guards threatened to rape her but then told her that “she did not deserve to have a man take her virginity,” the Electronic Intifada reported. Soldiers then held her down, and shoved a “rough, thick, wooden stick” into her vagina. Odeh learned only later that her father was forced to watch her rape.
She spent a decade in imprisonment till she was released in 1980 during a prisoner exchange with the PFLP.
From her organizing for Palestinian liberation in the occupied territories to her work in the United States over the past 13 years as Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network, Odeh’s resolve for fighting for justice has not eroded despite the many hurdles she has faced.
“Through a massive, organized defense campaign, Rasmea Odeh — a long-time icon of the Palestine liberation movement — is now a name known in every corner of the movement for social justice in the U.S.,” her defense committee stated recently, as reported by The Electronic Intifada.
“She exposed Israel for what it is — a racist occupier and colonizer — and put its policy of torture and sexual assault on the permanent record in a U.S. court of law.”