Rasmea Odeh and the Vilification of Brown Women’s Bodies

In 1969, Rasmea Odeh signed a false confession convicting her of participating in the 1969 bombings in Israel, after she was arrested, tortured, and raped in an Israeli prison. She was put on trail once again in the United States in 2013, for allegedly falsely writing ‘no’ to a question about previous arrests or imprisonments on her immigration papers. Just last week, she was convicted for immigration fraud and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

As a victim of torture and rape, one wonders, did she answer ‘no’ because she didn’t commit the crime?  Perhaps having Israeli authorities try to force her father to rape her as she lay naked in front of him, coupled with the Israeli authorities’ own continuous penetration, rape, and systematic torture of her, was a memory that someone suffering from severe PTSD would block out. And yet, throughout the course of the trial, her rape was dismissed. Silenced.


Although Judge Gershwin Drain acknowledged it as credible, he ruled that the evidence couldn’t be presented in her trial. Irrelevant. Drain replaced the recused Judge Paul D. Borman, who was initially reluctant to back away from the case despite having been found to support blatantly pro-Israel organizations such as the Jewish Federation of Detroit, which openly boasts of sending “more people to Israel each year than any other federation community in North America.“ Also cast as irrelevant was the clear-as-daylight reality that this trial came out of a Zionist witch-hunt against many Palestinian activists in an attempt to silence them.

It was present, it was known, yet it stood as irrelevant.

It was she that was irrelevant. Her. Rasmea Odeh. Daughter of the Nakba. Daughter of the Naksa. Daughter of Palestine. She alone stood speaking of pain that can never fit into words, and because it was not valued by power or money, and wreaked of imperialism, colonialism, and the White Man’s Burden, it was, simply, not pertinent.

But what does this boil down to? Yes, Palestinian activists are being vilified. Yes, the United States justice system works against Arab and Muslim community members who dare to have a voice in a world meant for the complicit. But, what does it really boil down to?

It is a brown woman, 66-year-old Rasmea Odeh, describing her torture and rape and witnessing her traumatic experience being publicly dismissed by our judicial system. This trial ultimately sends one message to all of us: Her body is disposable. Your ‘women of color’ bodies are disposable. We liberate your bodies from your men, only to occupy you ourselves. Chandra Mohanty, a postcolonial feminist theorist, writes,

“While the U.S. imperial project calls for civilizing brown and black (and now Arab) men and rescuing their women outside its borders, the very same state engages in killing, imprisoning, and criminalizing black and brown and now Muslim and Arab peoples within its own borders.”

Rasmea Odeh has documented and spoken about her time in Israeli prison internationally and in different media outlets and her narrative is accepted as reliable and true.  So why was her penetration and bodily occupation incessantly dismissed? We must recognize this as the reality it speaks to: the bodies of brown women are only vessels for imperialistic power. We are pried open, we are penetrated, and we suffer a long life full of nightmares and the constant attempt to humanize ourselves in the face of relentless judiciary, social, and political dehumanization. When Rasmea spoke about being naked in front of the eyes of the guards, she was dismissed; her narrative was recognized as truth, but systematically silenced throughout her trial — and, in result, her body was officially recognized as not hers. As lacking a haweya. As occupied.

This brings to mind the rape of women in U.S. occupations and U.S.-led invasions, the rape of Palestinian women by Israeli forces, and the disposability of black and brown women’s bodies within the U.S. itself. When a threat is faced and a war is declared, the penetration of land goes hand in hand with the penetration of a nation’s women. For, if the woman is the nation, then her bodily occupation and conquer is worth the same as the physical occupation of land.

Rasmea’s conviction seeks to serve as a way to silence both men and women from activism and resistance that is not aligned with the state. It is the memento for brown women that their narrative, pain, violence, and memory will arrogantly be recognized as the truth but ignored. It also keeps the men, raised in cultures that value the protection of their sisters, mothers, and daughters, in line by reminding them that they are no longer men, they are no longer protectors, and are stripped of their masculinity; they are also just as easily a penetrable physical space for occupation.

We are reminded of Abu Ghraib prison and the scandal that is so easily and smoothly forgotten. We are acknowledging that brown men and women were sexually assaulted, violated, and tortured, and their abusers can and did get away with a light tap on the wrist. When pictures emerged showing the sexual abuse of Iraqi women prisoners, Obama urged against their release because, “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” It is very clear that the President of the United States of America does not care that these images show Iraqi women in positions unsuitable for any human, nonetheless an innocent Iraqi woman suffering at the hands of their invaders. He does not care about bringing the perpetrators to justice. He only insists on holding together the threads that make this empire powerful — through the vessel provided within the most vulnerable being of a collapsing state.

Rasmea Odeh’s body is the verdict to this trail. It serves as a reminder to us that the bastardization of brown men for their fantasy of white women is in truth a reflection of a reality that is quite the opposite: the fear of brown women from the bastardization of their bodies through the invasion and occupation — both of land and physical body — at the hands of white men. Whether this ‘prying open’ takes place in Israeli prison cells or Abu Ghraibs across the U.S.’s imperialistic ambitions, or the abuse of power against women of color within the U.S. itself, we have much to fear. We have a long way ahead of us, but the U.S. justice system will not be our ally. Occupations do not end once the conquering takes place. Let us be Indias, Kashmirs, Palestines, Algerias. Within us all is the power of liberation.

Rasmea Odeh’s trial has taught us all lessons of justice not written by old and expired white men. She has helped us reclaim our womanhood, our liberation, our individualism, our spirit. Rasmea taught us that the resistance movement is a never-ending one; she has taught us to liberate our minds, our love for one another, our spirits, our bodies, and eventually, to liberate lands. Our rising is a reclamation of justice that was not served to her. This trial exposed to us exactly where Palestinian activism stands. Brutally alone. But passionately free, fervently truthful, and, most of all, vehemently ours.

So let us speak up, not in hopes of survival, but in hopes of igniting within us and others the love for a freedom not limited to manmade courts. So speak up, in your own memory.

“and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”

-Audre Lorde

Edited: An earlier version of this article mistakenly suggested Judge Borman as having presided over Rasmea Odeh’s case.