The trial of Rasmea Odeh in Detroit concluded on Monday, November 10, 2014. The federal government charged her with a fraudulent naturalization application. She had declared in 2004 that she had no arrests, convictions, or imprisonments. The trial is in Detroit because she first settled and applied for citizenship here. A Palestinian, she’d been convicted by a military court in Israel for coordinating two bombing attacks that killed two people. Allegedly she falsely confessed after coerced by torture and rape. Her defense in this current trial is not fully understanding the application instructions, whether “ever” means “ever anywhere” or only in the United States.
The larger issue is justice.
She was convicted of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. She plans to appeal.
“No,” said the priest, “you don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.” “Depressing view,” said K. “The lie made into the rule of the world.”
― Franz Kafka, The Trial
Notes from my journal:
November 7, 2014, Friday
Rasmea Odeh (pronounced raz-mee-a o-day), on trial for alleged naturalization application fraud, has instead, I do hope, put the Israeli government and the USA intelligence apparatus themselves on trial. Because of Judge Gershwin Drain’s rulings (which might become the basis of an appeal), the trial avoided the larger issue—justice generally, but, in this case, her treatment by the Israelis and their occupation of Palestine and her subsequent contributions to Arab-American society in Chicago. Little mentioned, the fact that the trial grew out of the investigation and threatened prosecution of 23 anti-war and Palestinian community organizers in Chicago and Minneapolis in 2010, many of them under continuing surveillance by the FBI and Homeland Security.
Arriving a little late on Thursday, November6, the third day of the trial, not sure where the federal courthouse was, or the specific courtroom, I finally entered the actual room only to learn they allowed no more visitors and I would be able to observe in the overflow area. With wide-screen TV and good audio I might have seen and heard better in this room than in the actual courtroom.
I won’t detail the proceedings because Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) where Rasmea works, and others have done a fine job.* I will write about photographing the rally, followed by my thoughts springing from witnessing the trial.
First Rasmea. initial impression: this woman has suffered; suffering defines her; her face, twisted and lined, perhaps aging beyond he actual years (67), reveals her suffering. Yet a fascinating face, one I photographed extensively. Then the rally group, some from my hometown of Chicago; others from Minneapolis, the site of FBI interrogations; and me, from Cambridge Massachusetts (here to photograph aspects of the city): energetic, committed, caring, devoted not only to Rasmea but to the cause: justice for immigrants and activists, for all.
I felt welcomed, nor did any seem suspicious of me, altho I might have been a government agent. I noticed one young woman wearing a hijab concealed her face with her poster when I turned the camera toward her. Otherwise, no exclusion, no hiding from the camera.
The lead defense lawyer, Michael Deutsch from Chicago, tall and with a white beard, long involved in human rights campaigns, spoke mostly about the case and strategies; Rasmea thanked the group, promising to remain strong; Hatem emphasized how important support is; and Invincible Ill Weaver, a renowned local rapper and activist, who I’d met earlier and spoke to about Grace Lee Boggs, roused the crowd. They all concentrated on prospects and gratitude.
Invincible Ill Weaver
Michael Deutsch, lead defense attorney
November 8, 2014, Saturday
As I wrote SF:
i’ve just returned home from my second and possibly final day at the rasmea odeh trial [friday, november 7]. cross examination of rasmea, closing arguments, and the judge’s instructions to the jury occupied the morning. outside some 60 supporters, including a large contingent from chicago, rallied before and after. i photographed as much as i could—outside only because of the proscription against cameras and other recording devices.
the jury returns monday to continue deliberations. her lawyer, michael deutsch, did a top notch job closing today, trying to lift the argument from the narrow issue of lying on her naturalization application to fairness and justice…
A few ideas occurred to me while observing the trial.
1. Another way to decide Rasmea’s case would be: suppose she is declared guilty. She will be removed from her community and the country, no longer able to provide services or advocacy. She could suffer prison for some 5-10 years, a huge fine, and then deportation. Where will she go? How will this contribute to the community’s—and the country’s—well being and security?
2. Did she actually help organize the bombing of the Jerusalem supermarket in 1969 that she was convicted of? Was she a member of a banned, so-called terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? An interview with the brother of one of the two victims, Basil Joffe (the brother, Eddie Joffe, has attended the trial) suggests she is guilty of the bombing. What evidence is there? What media exists from that period? She claims she was arrested in a wide sweep which included her father, and then falsely accused and convicted after torture and rape. What is the truth? If guilty, might she eventually confess? Is her benevolent work a form of repentance?
3. The prosecutor repeated numerous times the phrase, “convicted of two bombings that killed two innocent people.” In his concluding statement, the defense attorney, Michael Deutsch, used the frequency of that phrase to demonstrate how slanted the prosecution’s case was. In effect, without using the T word, ruled out by the judge, the implication was “terrorist.” In contrast Judge Drain ruled against allowing Rasmea’s claim that Israel tortured and raped her to coerce a confession. Had this been allowed, the defense would have used a different strategy, emphasizing her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how this affected her application.
Nadine Naber, University of Illinois-Chicago professor, character witness
4. One factor deciding the outcome of this case might be the jurors’ feelings about Israel, whether supportive or opposed. If opposed they might understand that most likely Rasmea, if guilty of the bombing, was acting in defense of her people against the occupation, and, if not guilty, which is quite likely given Israel’s documented use of torture and brutal interrogation and imprisonment, a victim of a large sweep as she claimed. If supportive of Israel, then the opposite. They might believe she is a terrorist killing innocents. And should be punished and expelled from the United States.
5. What threat does Rasmea pose to out country? Living here she has never been arrested, tried, convicted, or jailed, but the FBI and Homeland Security sucked her up during a dragnet in 2010 of anti-war and Palestinian rights’ activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. To the contrary she was honored with the Mosaic Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Chicago Cultural Alliance for her work with immigrants from Arab-Muslim countries, primarily women and youth.
6. If her original alleged crime had occurred in another country such as Libya or Syria or Iran, a so-called “enemy entity,” part of the new Mideast “axis of evil,” the arguments would have taken different forms. She might have been viewed as a freedom fighter, exercising her people’s right of self-defense.
7. Is this case propelled by Israel, materially aided by Israel (they furnished documents of her 1970 trial), fully supported by the US intelligence apparatus?
8. Supporters claim she is being targeted because she is Palestinian. Yet as far as I know her work in this country has not been primarily for Palestinian rights. It has been more general, in support of Arab-Americans. Why consider her dangerous?
9. As David Sole, active with citizens’ groups about Detroit’s bankruptcy, pointed out to me, our government has allowed entrance of German Nazis and Cuban “freedom fighters.” Where’s the consistency?
10. As for observing the trial itself, I compare that experience to setting up and shooting a Hollywood movie scene—tedious, endless detail, shots repeated. Or to reading an academic text—repetitive, poorly edited. Not at all exciting as some courtroom dramas can be. (David Sole also compared parts of the trial to the Three Stooges. I suggested Jon Stewart would have a delightful time with the story on the Daily Show.)
The drama occurred later, out of my range, off stage—the deliberation of the jury, and the suffering of Rasmea. What did they all feel this past weekend pondering outcomes?
11. I have been searching for links between Detroit and Palestine-Israel where I also continue my long-term photographic work. The main link is imprisonment, especially true for the Palestinians in Gaza, but also for those in the West Bank and even Palestinian Israelis—gross denial of human rights, including freedom of movement. In the case of Detroit, economic and racial conditions prohibit full exercise of human rights. The worst case is denial of water, affecting hundreds of thousands of Detroiters, all or mostly all Black. Many Detroiters live in such rotten economic conditions they have little freedom of movement, geographical and societally. And now a vivid case of imprisonment in Detroit: Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian, convicted and jailed.
Gaza City, Palestine, 2010, photo by Skip Schiel
12. The lobster boat-coal barge story** from New England is an example of how a prosecutor can be enlightened in the course of his work. Could that happen with the prosecutors of Rasmea?
13. Brecht’s play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, speaks to the larger issue of justice. Judge Azdak, attempting to decide which of two women claiming to be the mother of a child, draws a circle, places the child in it, and requests the two women decide. He decides for the woman who refuses to hurt the child by pulling it out—not the actual mother who is selfish and cruel, but the one who treated the child well, the maternal one. (When I told this story to supporters they added that it is a version of the biblical story of Solomon in a similar situation—“Cutting the child in half.”
What there is shall belong to those who are good for it, thus
The children to the maternal . . . the valley to the waterers.
—Bertold Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle
13. As I’ve written earlier, my main observation is that trials such as this one tend to concentrate on narrow issues—whether she committed fraud in her application for citizenship or in other cases whether protesters trespassed at a military facility?—rather than larger issues such as justice and stopping militarism. (An example of the narrow issue in this case was whether she understood the directions on the application, whether ever means ever anywhere or ever in the USA?) I think of Kafka and his novel, The Trial. Poor Josef K, the chief character, his confusion, his entrapment.
“But I’m not guilty,” said K. “there’s been a mistake. How is it even possible for someone to be guilty? We’re all human beings here, one like the other.” “That is true” said the priest “but that is how the guilty speak.”
― Franz Kafka, The Trial
At the request of the prosecution, the judge revoked Rasmea’s bail. She is now in a Detroit jail awaiting sentencing due in March 2015.
LINKS & NOTES:
Arab American Action Network, Chicago (Rasmea is the deputy director)
“Palestinian Organizer Rasmea Odeh Jailed Hours After Being Convicted by Jury of Immigration Fraud,” by Kevin Gosztola, November 10, 2014
“A political prosecution”: inside the trial of Rasmea Odeh,” by Nora Barrows-Friedman, November 9, 2014
“Admitted Palestinian terrorist may be deported from US (updated),” by the elder of zion, May 18, 2014
FBI questioning Chicago Palestinian community members,” May 7, 2014
“Activists cry foul over FBI probe,” by Peter Wallsten June 13, 2011
“FBI Raids Homes of Antiwar and Pro-Palestinian Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis,” Democracy Now, September 27, 2010
“Death in the Supermarket” (Eddie Joffe was murdered in Jerusalem 45 years ago. Today his terrorist killer is lionized.” b