Convicted Terrorist Goes on Trial in Detroit for Immigration Fraud

By Barbara Hollingsworth | October 30, 2014 | 5:16 PM EDT

 

Palestinian activist Rasmieh Odeh (center) leaves a federal courthouse on Oct. 22, 2013 after a federal judge refused to dismiss immigration fraud charges against her. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – A 66-year-old Palestinian activist and former Obamacare navigator from Chicago will go on trial in Detroit on November 4th for allegedly failing to disclose that she was convicted of two terrorist bombings in Israel on her U.S. visa and naturalization applications.

Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, a naturalized U.S. citizen, spent more than 10 years in an Israeli prison for her part in the 1969 bombing of a Supersol supermarket in Jerusalem that killed college students Edward Joffee and Leon Kanner, who were shopping for snacks for a hike. Thousands of Israelis attended their funerals.

Odeh is the associate director of the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) founded by Rashid Khalidi, whose controversial 2003 farewell party was attended by then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama. She faces up to ten years in prison and deportation if she is convicted of immigration fraud.

According to the Oct. 17, 2013 indictment, Odeh was arrested in March 1969 with four other members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that was “one of the original members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO),” for two bombings in Israel. PFLP was declared a “foreign terrorist organization” by the U.S. State Department in 1997. (See Rasmieh Odeh indictment.pdf)

“The first plot involved the simultaneous or near simultaneous detonation of multiple backpack bombs in two locations in Jerusalem on or about February 21, 1969 – one, a crowded  supermarket (two bombs) and the second, the British Consulate (single bomb).

"One of the supermarket bombs malfunctioned and did not detonate. The other bomb detonated as planned, killing two and injuring many civilians. The bomb left in the courtyard of the British Consulate was discovered and removed to a safe place before it detonated,” the indictment charged.

“The second plot involved a single bomb placed at the British Consulate on or about February 25, 1969,” the indictment stated. “This bomb detonated as planned, causing damage to the structure.”

Odeh and her four co-defendants were arrested and found guilty of planting the bombs by an Israeli military court. She was sentenced to life in prison, but “after serving more than 10 years in prison, the Israeli government released Odeh and transferred her to Lebanon as part of a prisoner exchange with the PFLP,” the indictment stated.

As part of the exchange, in which Israel released 76 Palestinians for one Israeli soldier being held in Lebanon, Odeh’s sentence was commuted.

However, when Odeh, a Jordanian citizen, applied for a U.S. visa in December 1994, she was asked to “list below all places you have lived for six months or longer since reaching the age of 16.”

“Defendant Odeh’s full response falsely stated that she had lived in Amman, Jordan, from 1948 onward, thereby intentionally omitting the details of her residence, including the ten years in which she had been imprisoned.” She also “falsely checked the box marked ‘No’” when asked if she had “ever been arrested, convicted, or ever been in prison,” according to the indictment.

When Odeh filed a naturalization application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) ten years later, in June 2004, she again failed to disclose her arrest, conviction and imprisonment in Israel and “reaffirmed under oath the lies,” the government charged.

Although “an applicant who acquired permanent residence status through fraud or misrepresentation, or who was otherwise not lawfully entitled to such status when it was accorded, has never been ‘lawfully admitted for permanent residence,’ and may not become a United States citizen,” Odeh was sworn-in as a naturalized citizen on December 9, 2004, according to the indictment.

The case has garnered national attention. Odeh’s supporters have launched a Facebook campaign called “Drop the Charges Against Rasmea Now.” They include 124 feminist academics who claim Odeh’s confession in Israel was obtained after 45 days of physical and sexual torture.

But in a preliminary ruling, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said that any testimony on Odeh's alleged torture or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was inadmissible. The judge also ruled that prosecutors will not be able to use the words “terrorism” or “terrorist” during her trial.

Drain said that while he believes Odeh’s claims are credible, the only issue before him is whether she knowingly lied to U.S. officials. “Her guilt or innocence in ’69 or ’70 is just not relevant,” he stated. “I’m not going to retry that case.”

But Michael Deutsch, Odeh’s attorney, was critical of the ruling, which he said “gutted her defense.”

“I think it’s an incorrect ruling that makes it very difficult for her to receive a fair trial,” Deutsch told CNSNews.com. “Her defense is that she didn’t knowingly lie.... She was tortured and suffered PTSD and that’s what affected her when she answered the questions” on her citizenship application.

But relatives of Edward Joffee, one of the 21-year-old Hebrew University students killed in the 1969 supermarket blast, don't see it that way.

“This woman’s no victim. This woman is a simple terrorist. Nothing more and nothing less,” Harold Joffee, Edward Joffee's brother, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which has produced a five-part video series on Odeh entitled: Spinning A Terrorist Into A Victim.

Another brother, Basil Joffee, pointed to a 2004 pro-Palestinian documentary, Women in Struggle, in which a woman identified as Ayesha Odeh says: “What I had attempted doing in placing the bomb was part of my motivation in doing effective work… My role was implementing rather than planning, and even the location that we went to, I went to it for the first time and had never gone to it before or seen it....

“Now, later, I found out that it was called super Saul [sic] in West Jerusalem. Rasmiyeh Oudeh was more involved than I was and Rasheedah Obeiduh had gone and studied the location and come and done a report back. I only got involved during the preparation of the explosives.

"We wanted to place two bombs to blow up consecutively. I suggested to have the second bomb go off 5 or 6 minutes after the first bomb so that those who get killed in it would be members of the [Israeli] army and secret service, but it did not explode. They diffused it 20 seconds before it exploded.”

“This particular story is black and white,” Terry Joffee Benaryeh, Edward Joffee’s niece, wrote in the Huffington Post in May, citing the documentary, which can be seen on YouTube. “To [Odeh’s] supporters I ask: At what point will you acknowledge her past and her crimes?”