Rasmea Odeh can be described in a flurry of positive and flattering adjectives. There isn’t a truthful soul on this planet that can deny that Odeh approaches life with love; To many across the country she is a hero, and an icon. There is not a terrorizing bone in her body and there clearly never has been.
Odeh was sentenced on March 12 to 18 months in prison, fined $1,000 and is to be deported to Jordan pending the results of her appeal.
The US prosecutors, who depicted Odeh as a terrorist and sought to put Odeh in jail for five to seven years, agreed to a deal that would allow her to remain out of prison on the $50,000 bond while she appealed the court’s decision. That process could take up to eight months.
Despite her uphill battle, Odeh is optimistic about her future and was ecstatic to go back home to Chicago with her family and friends, after Judge Gershwin Drain’s ruling. Her supporters filled the court room and the spill over room, many of whom road on a bus from Chicago to Detroit in the middle of the night to be there.
There are many reasons people from vast backgrounds across the US are invested in Odeh. Judge Drain admitted he could not get through the many letters of leniency that were sent to him on Odeh’s behalf.
Odeh embodies the Palestinian struggle. She is constantly defending her existence because of the Israeli occupation that too often has ruined the lives she has built.
When she was given her chance to speak during her sentencing hearing, Odeh eloquently described her life as a series of struggles, that too often found her back at square one. She pleaded to Judge Drain to prevent that from happening again.
She was an infant when her life was first uprooted. Odeh’s family was forced to live in tents in a refugee camp for years after Israel invaded Palestine and began its ongoing occupation of the land. She went on to explain to the judge that less than a decade later she had to adjust to life without a father. Odeh’s dad immigrated to the US in the 1950’s to get a job that would support their family. During Judge Drain’s ruling, he specifically dismissed the fact that Odeh was fatherless for a portion of her life.
As she transitioned into adulthood, she still couldn’t escape Israel’s atrocities. Odeh spent a year in Lebanon studying but the occupying power (Israel) didn’t allow her to return to Lebanon and complete her education after she visited her family in Palestine.
Then during 1969, Odeh was one of 500 Palestinians arrested by Israel in a huge sweep. While in Israeli custody Odeh was sexually tortured and forced to confess to a bombing that she vehemently denies being a part of. She spent 10 years in an Israeli prison before she was released in a prisoner exchange.
She would eventually move to Jordan, complete her education and build a life for herself, but then she received a phone call that would change her life again. Her father, who had been living in Michigan, learned he had cancer. She gave up her life, applied to become a US citizen and rededicated her life to serving her ill father and others.
Odeh moved from Michigan to Chicago in 2004 and soon after became the Associate Director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN). Then she created the Arab Women’s Committee that serves 600 Arab women.
Despite her dedication to those in need and the obvious contributions she has made to her community, the US government wants to convict, imprison and deport Odeh, 67, with a jury that has not heard about her torture and is ignorant of her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Judge Drain disregarded Israel’s heinous crimes against Odeh, but allowed evidence from Israel to be seen by the jury.
Throughout her life it has been evident that her existence thrives off the betterment of others, but Judge Drain barely recognized the work she has done over the past 15-20 years in the US. He called Rasmea a “reformed terrorist,” a blatantly ignorant conclusion to come to, especially since her conviction was conceived in a military court in result of an unlawful confession.
Because of the way the US engages with Israel, its hard to imagine a scenario in which Odeh wins her appeal.
A few times during the trial and even once during the sentencing hearing, Judge Drain admitted how difficult it was for him to judge this particular case. His decision to not allow Odeh and her expert witness to testify about Odeh’s torture and sexual assault while in Israeli custody put a stain on the jury’s guilty verdict and Judge Drain’s ruling.
Outside the courthouse, after the sentencing hearing, Odeh’s lawyer told supporters and reporters not to expect that Rasmea will get the justice she deserves. Michael Deutsch, Odeh’s lead defense attorney, expressed his realistic assessment of the final outcome but that will not deter Odeh and her supporters from having hope that she will regain her US citizenship and continue her impactful work.
Odeh has been denied a fair trial. Still, Odeh and her supporters celebrated knowing their time together has been extended.
Rasmea road on the bus back to Chicago with her supporters and they laughed at jokes and sang Palestinian songs. Despite the hard work that lays ahead of Odeh, March 12 will not be the final time she smiles, laughs, sings and dances; It isn’t in her nature to give up and shut down, she will continue to fight until she exhausts all her options.