March 7, 2015

Free Rasmea Odeh this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2015

By Angela Y. Davis, March 4, 2015

For one hundred and six years working class and progressive men and women over the entire world have been marching and demanding equal rights for women on March 8. This is a cornerstone of the unity that we all know is required if we are to win the liberation of the people from exploitation, white supremacist racism, and grinding poverty that afflicts a fourth of the world’s people, according to the World Bank. It is outrageous that four days later, on March 12, 2015, in a Federal Court in Detroit Michigan, the U. S. Justice Department will be asking Judge Gershwin A. Drain to sentence Rasmea Odeh, a courageous activist for women’s rights and human rights, to five to seven years in prison, according to news reports. This is far beyond the federally recommended guidelines of 12-21 months.

Rasmea Odeh has been a naturalized U. S. citizen for over ten years. What is her crime? Her arrest and prosecution are politically motivated and are clearly designed to disrupt the Palestine human rights community. Only now, when the Chicago activist community has effectively raised awareness of Israel’s apartheid system and its violation of international laws, have immigration authorities decided to challenge her status as a citizen. In light of success of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign, this case reeks of political payback. Federal authorities allege that Odeh did not disclose her arrest in Palestine 45 years ago by an Israeli military court, an institution that has a long record of human rights violations. At that time of her arrest in Palestine, Odeh was forced into a confession while being subjected to physical and sexual torture, some of it perpetrated in front of her now deceased father. Odeh never committed a crime, and her arrest and conviction by an Israeli military court was unlawful.

For decades, Odeh has been an upright and contributing member of her community.  She has worked with the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network, an advocacy and social service agency, supervising programs and coordinating its Arab Women’s Committee, a 600-member group that actively defends civil liberties and immigrant rights. Targeting a person who has been such an active proponent for positive change is a serious setback for civil rights and militates against democracy and justice.  

As a person with first-hand knowledge of the devastation wrought by politically motivated prosecutions — during the era of COINTELPRO, I was falsely charged with three capital offenses — I see Rasmea Odeh’s case as a continuation of the embarrassing history of decades of suppression of social justice activists in the U.S. The courts are being used to retaliate against Palestinian activism. As many people in Chicago and Detroit once joined the call to “Free Angela Davis,” I hope they will now join the campaign to “Free Rasmea Odeh.”