Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Supporters Rally in Detroit for Activist Rasmea Odeh
Rasmea Odeh at federal court in Detroit. (Abayomi Azikiwe)
Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press 9:49 p.m. EDT
June 13, 2016

Case of Arab-American activist who used to live in Michigan is being closely watched by both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute

As her supporters rallied outside, a federal judge today ordered a new hearing in the case of Rasmieh Odeh, the former Jackson resident found guilty of immigration fraud in connection with a 1969 bombing in Israel, said her attorney.

Supporters of Odeh said they hope that today's move could eventually lead to a new trial for the Illinois woman, who was found guilty and sentenced for lying on immigration forms, but got a second chance after a federal appeals court this year asked a Detroit judge to review her case again.

"I feel optimistic" that Odeh will get a new trial, said her attorney, Michael Deutsch.

As about 100 supporters rallied outside the federal courthouse, a private conference was held in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain.  During the conference, Drain set a hearing for Nov. 29 to determine whether a psychologist who's an expert on torture can be allowed to testify in Odeh's case, said Deutsch.

Security was heavy with police patrolling and guarding the entrances to the court on Lafayette Boulevard. Two officers with police dogs walked around the area.

Odeh, 69, was found guilty in November 2014 of lying on immigration forms. She checked "no" when asked on immigration and naturalization forms in 1994 and 2004 about whether she had ever been convicted. In 1969, Odeh had been found guilty in an Israeli court in the bombing of an Israeli supermarket that killed two civilians an an attempted attack on a British Consulate.

Odeh denies she was involved in the bombings, saying she was tortured while in Israeli custody and forced to confess. Her case has drawn national attention, with demonstrations for her across the U.S., including one last week in Times Square in New York City. Her case stems from FBI raids in 2010 of the homes of anti-war activists, who said they were unfairly targeted for their political beliefs. Odeh, who now lives in the Chicago-area and works for the Arab American Action Network, was arrested in October 2013.

Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, declined comment today. Prosecutors have portrayed Odeh as a terrorist and liar.

Odeh is an "icon in the terrorist world," Jonathan Tukel, assistant U.S. attorney who's chief of national security in the U.S. Attorney's Detroit office, said in court before her sentencing last year.

In February, a three-judge panel with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered that Odeh's case be sent back to U.S. District Court in Detroit. The panel ruled that Drain excluded testimony about the psychological trauma that Odeh said she suffered in Israeli prisons. Odeh's attorney says that she suffered from PTSD caused by torture in Israeli prisons, which made her suppress memories of her conviction when she was filling out the immigration forms.

Drain set a tentative trial date for January, said Deutsch. But first, the Nov. 29 hearing will be held to determine if the psychologist can testify about Odeh.

Odeh "is our hero, she is our icon," Hatem Abdudayyeh, a spokesman for Odeh's supporters with the Arab American Action Network, told supporters. "We will never, never give up the fight until we find justice for Rasmieh."

The supporters came from metro Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Texas, Milwaukee and included Detroit activists Tawana Petty and Kristian Bailey. Bailey said there's a link between Odeh's case and the disempowerment of the African-American community in Detroit.

The supporters chanted "DOJ, let's be clear. Rasmieh is welcome here" and "Out of our communities, out of mosques, FBI, go get lost."

Abdudayyeh said that Odeh's prosecution was "a case of political repression" targeting peace activists and pro-Palestinian advocates. Her case has been closely watched by both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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