After dawn on Wednesday supporters of Palestinian-American Rasmea Odeh shut down a federal building in Oakland, CA to protest her conviction two days before on charges of immigration fraud. The five who used lock boxes to block the front entrance of the government building were arrested hours later as 50 more protesters called for Odeh’s release.
Odeh was taken into custody in Chicago after her Monday hearing. Her case has struck a chord with Arab-Americans, and in leftist circles, and they will not be letting up their protests anytime soon.
“We see this as an attack on the entire community especially since they attacked one of our elders, we see her as a leader and a community organizer,” organizer Lara Kiswani, 33, told Mondoweiss. Kiswani is executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center based in San Francisco.
There are clear omissions in Odeh’s immigration forms. She was arrested in 1969, tried in 1970 in an Israeli military court and served ten years in prison in relation to a Tel Aviv bombing, and none of this made its way into her naturalization paperwork. Yet, Odeh is very much a victim. Before her 1970 trial, for nearly a month she was tortured and physically and sexually abused by her Israeli captors. Her military hearing relied on a confession she gave during this violent interrogation. Odeh contends it was a false confession, a regular occurrence at the time of her arrest.
When Odeh was tried in an Israeli military court, confessions and false confessions made through torture were the most common source of evidence used to produce convictions. I’m going to underscore this, because it’s really important: the most common from of conviction in an Israeli military court at the time of Odeh’s interrogation was made with a confession given under torture. This practice was first cataloged by the Israeli government in 1987 when the Landau Commission finally started a long awaited inquiry into the military court system after detainees who were mysteriously killed were later found to have died from torture with an attempted cover up from their interrogators. In its research the commission found false confessions were so widespread, referred to as “the norm,” that the head of Israel’s security services even distributed a memo to interrogators instructing them to lie in court about the use of torture to garner such confessions.
“The novelty consisted in the fact that senior GSS [security services] personnel considered false testimony so ingrained and self-evident, that they were not even apprehensive about putting it in writing and distributing it,” said the Landau Commission.
Years later when Odeh finally emigrated to the U.S. in 1995, she left her past behind her and did not include it in her naturalization forms. When this was raised in court, Odeh said that she did not understand that she was committing immigration fraud because she thought the questions about jail time and arrests pertained only to convictions in America. But if she had written that she spent 10 years in Israeli prison, would they have understood? Would they have granted her citizenship and recognized she had been incarcerated through a system of beatings and lies presented to an army judge—and not a civil or criminal court with regulations of due process? Or, would they have said no to her, denying her application outright?
Rasmea Odeh faces possible deportation. She was remanded until sentencing procedures begin.
“We want the entire case to be done with and that she be freed, and they drop all of the charges,” said Kiswani after the Oakland demonstration. “We did this action because we want to intensify protest on the harassment of Rasmea Odeh, especifally since she is in detention now.”
Correction: This post originally incorrectly reported the protest took place in San Francisco and has been updated. Thanks to commenter BDSList.