In 1948, at only a month old, Rasmea Odeh fled with her family from their home in Lifta, a village outside Jerusalem, during the Nakba, a time during which Israeli forces ethnically cleansed, displaced, and expelled thousands of Palestinians from their homes and land.
Later Odeh settled in Lebanon to pursue a degree. She was forced to discontinue her education when Israel banned her from returning to Beirut after visiting family in Palestine.
Odeh and her family were displaced again during Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank.
Two years later, in the middle of the night, Israeli soldiers arrested Odeh and accused her of participating in two bombings in West Jerusalem.
Her interrogators beat her from head to toe with sticks and stones, raped her, electrocuted her, and tortured her for over 20 days. It wasn’t until Israeli police summoned her father, and threatened to force him to rape her, that she confessed to a crime she didn’t commit. After her confession, the torturers continued to rape her. She describes her torture saying she felt,
“…Like there was a fire in my head, like high electricity voltage, like my head was going to explode.”
The torture continued during the decade she spent in Israeli jail.
Finally released in a 1979 prison exchange, Odeh traveled to Jordan where life began to look a bit more optimistic. She obtained a law degree, found a home and a job.
After learning that her father was diagnosed with cancer, Odeh migrated to the United States to care for him.
She lived a life dedicated to social service focused on the national liberation of Palestine, a cause the US government has been strenuously trying to criminalize for years. She established the Arab Women’s Committee, an organization that teaches Arab immigrants English and helps them adjust to American life in the Midwest. She became the Associate Director of Arab American Action Network in 2007.
Almost a decade after living in the United States, agents from the Department of Homeland Security arrested Odeh from her Chicago home on the charge that she failed to indicate a previous imprisonment.
Her sudden arrest came at a time when Palestinian solidarity activists in Chicago were under a lot of federal scrutiny for their social justice work.
Rasmea Odeh’s imprisonment is much more than just an immigration case. It is a political case that lends further insight to the United States’ relationship with Israel and just how far America would go to maintain Israeli interests.
After a lengthy trial that did not allow Odeh’s defense to discuss her torture in Israeli jail or to mention her PTSD, a federal court convicted Odeh and recently sentenced her to 18 months in prison and a thousand dollar fine.
Her US citizenship has been revoked and she faces deportation to Jordan.
Rasmea, now 67, remains free on bond and can stay in the United States until she appeals.
The story of Rasmea Odeh is one of resilience and tenacity in the face of frequent state-sponsored resistance. It’s a stark reminder of what happens to those who dare to bravely stand against systematic injustice codified in a law that upholds it.
Written by Halimah Elmariah
Photo credits to Paul Sancya