On February 21, 1969, Eddie Joffe, 21, and his best friend, Leon Kanner, stopped at an upscale grocery store in central Jerusalem. A recent immigrant and avid hiker who aspired to explore every mile of his new country, Eddie wanted to grab a few supplies for a foray in the nearby hills. But Palestinian terrorists had rigged a can of sweets with dynamite, leaving it on a shelf in the supermarket. The bomb detonated just as the two college students approached, killing both and injuring nine or ten other bystanders.
Eddie’s little brother, Harold, 19, had to accompany his shocked parents and Israeli officials to identify the body, says Basil, the eldest Joffe son. “I remember him telling me the body was so badly burned and blackened from the explosion that they could barely recognize it,” Basil tells me. “It was a pretty devastating thing for Harold to have to endure. . . . The grief that my family, and especially my parents, experienced was immense. . . . When I arrived in Jerusalem, we all just held each other and wept. There’s nothing that anybody could say. . . . My parents’ lives were also devastated, definitely, and they never recovered until they died.”
Forty-five years later, the woman convicted for her central role in the bombing that killed Joffe and Kanner is facing trial for immigration fraud in Detroit, Mich.
Though Rasmieh Yousef Odeh was sentenced to life in prison in Israel for her role in the bombing, she was released after a decade as part of a prisoner swap. She allegedly lied on her immigration papers, moving to the United States, gaining prominence in Chicago as an activist for the Arab community, and eventually becoming a citizen. (As National Review Online reported earlier this year, she also worked as an Obamacare navigator.)
The Associated Press reported last week that Odeh may plead guilty at her court hearing today, which could result in her deportation but allow her to avoid years in an American prison for falsifying her immigration papers. The charges against Odeh have been vocally disputed by the Muslim community — including the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), which employs her as an associate director — and other groups in the region.
Basil says that although he has lived in Houston for the past 35 years, he found out only last week that Odeh had moved to the United States and become an American citizen. That knowledge — as well as the fact that Odeh continues to receive public support, despite appearing unrepentant for her crimes — is deeply painful to the surviving Joffe family, Basil says.
In a news conference last year, Hatem Abudayyeh, AAAN’s executive director, described Odeh as a women’s-rights activist who “has dedicated her whole life to social justice” and “who has come under attack by federal law enforcement in this country.”
Margaret Jackson, the interim regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, voiced her support for Odeh and said, “It just infuriates me that this country continues to discriminate on color and religion and they’re so desperate that they go back into the past to do that. . . . As an organization that is almost 100 years old and committed to non-violence, I’m just appalled by this situation.”
Odeh’s supporters have attended her court dates and started petitions online demanding that charges against her be dropped.
Basil says he finds their advocacy for a terrorist deeply disturbing; “I just about vomited” when he listened to one of them, he says. Their claims that Odeh is the victim of political persecution and discrimination are particularly galling, he says.
“That [would be] a perfectly legitimate problem for them to address, and very good for them — but what is unconscionable is that they could take in this woman, whom they now know — and maybe they didn’t know in the beginning, but they certainly know now exactly what her past was — so how could they purport to prevent unfair discrimination and stereotyping when one of their [leaders] is a convicted terrorist, murdered people, and is unrepentant? It makes a hypocrisy, a mockery, of what they’re trying to accomplish,” Basil says.
He points out that in a 2004 documentary called Women in Struggle, Rasmieh Odeh and a woman named Ayesha Odeh (it’s unclear whether the two are related or merely close friends) speak openly about their terroristic activities in Israel and appear to lack any regret about the crimes they committed.
In the documentary, Ayesha says that “Rasmieh Odeh was more involved than I was [in the grocery-store bombing]. . . . I only got involved during the preparation of explosives. We wanted to place two bombs to blow up consecutively. I suggested to have the second bomb go off five or six minutes after the first bomb so that those who get killed in it would be members of the army and secret service, but it did not explode. They defused it 20 seconds before it exploded.” Rasmieh Odeh describes how time in an Israeli prison deepened her “hatred against those who were responsible. Why? I am not responsible, the occupation is.”
Though Odeh avoided her life sentence in Israel, Basil says that spending time in an American prison for immigration fraud would be “a much more fitting punishment for her at this point” than deportation alone. He says if Odeh is spared a prison sentence, he fears she will return to the Middle East to receive “a hero’s welcome.”
Basil adds that he’s glad his parents aren’t alive to witness Odeh’s reemergence. Eddie’s death haunted them all their lives, Basil says, recalling his brother as a cheerful, friendly young man whose absence was constantly and painfully felt by the family.
“My brother was really athletic and strong,” Basil says, “but he was also very well read and intelligent. He was at the start of his university career, so his life was really just starting out, and he was filled with exuberance and enthusiasm. On his gravestone, there’s a quote that says: ‘The spark of his life was snuffed out in Jerusalem by a hand of evil.’”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center.