Forty-five years ago, Rasmieh Yousef Odeh participated in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem that killed two men in their early 20s and wounded several more. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had hidden a bomb in a box of sweets at a grocery store, and when it detonated, it left Eddie Joffe so charred that his brother struggled to identify the corpse. His parents grieved for the rest of their lives, Eddie’s brother Basil told me.
Some small measure of justice was served yesterday, when a federal jury convicted Odeh for lying on her U.S. immigration papers in 1995, then again on her citizenship papers in 2004. The 67-year-old, deemed a flight risk by the judge, will remain behind bars until her March 10 sentencing. She faces up to 10 years in prison — which could be a life sentence, given her age — as well as possible deportation and loss of citizenship.
But Odeh’s story has several other disturbing twists, all worth noting.
First, it’s unnerving that it took the federal government nearly two decades to discover that it had allowed a known terrorist into the United States. Odeh had been convicted in Israel and sentenced to life in prison, though the government released her after ten years as part of a prisoner swap.
In the United States, Odeh was hardly discreet about her violent past, agreeing to be interviewed for a 2004 documentary, Women in Struggle, which won awards at the San Diego Film Festival, the AlIsmailia Film Festival in Egypt, and the Kazan Film Festival for Muslim Countries.
About the bombings, the documentary’s overall tone is unapologetic. Odeh discusses how her decade in Israeli prison fueled her “hatred against those who were responsible. Why? I am not responsible. The occupation is.” In the same documentary, a woman named Ayesha said that Odeh, who is either her close friend or a relative, “was [even] more involved than I was” in the bombings. Ayesha also described her disappointment that a second bomb was defused before it could explode; they had hoped it would detonate five or six minutes after the initial bombing and slaughter the responders.
Second, it’s troublesome how, even after the documentary’s release, Odeh — by then a vocal activist in Chicago’s Arab-American community — received certification to work as an Obamacare navigator, and on top of that, received it in one of the states that actually bother to run background checks on in-person counselors. Though a simple Google search would have revealed her shady past, the Illinois Department of Insurance quietly revoked Odeh’s certification only after it became aware of the immigration-fraud investigation. It’s not clear what would have happened if, for example, an Israeli American had gone to her seeking help with signing up for Obamacare, but imagine the possibilities.
Finally, there’s the shocking support Odeh has received in America, despite her role in a deadly bombing and despite her former membership in a Marxist-Palestinian group involved in myriad plane hijackings and terrorist attacks.
Many in the Arab-American community decried Odeh’s conviction yesterday. The Detroit News reports: “One woman inside the courtroom with the video feed sobbed inconsolably, while another called the judge’s order ‘haram,’ the Arabic word for ‘sinful’ or ‘forbidden.’ . . . Many were in tears, but they cheered and chanted [Odeh’s] name as she spoke and responded with ‘naam,’ which is ‘yes’ in Arabic.”
The Detroit Free Press reported that as many as 100 people protested outside the Detroit courthouse last week and Monday to support Odeh, with rallies for her also held in at least four other states. Several hundred posted to Twitter under the hashtag #JusticeforRasmea. Meanwhile, only a single person Tweeted about #Justice4Eddie and #Justice4Leon [Kanner], the two men killed in the bombing.
Organizations also voiced their support of Odeh. Occupy Chicago called the U.S. attorney’s office “nothing but a tool for the U.S. government and its support of Israel,” while Code Pink wrote about how it “deplores the conviction of Rasmea Odeh,” adding that “Odeh is an inspiring example of the resilience of women activists who dare to organize despite histories of trauma and violence.”
Thirty-five groups — including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Canada Palestine Association, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Voice of Palestine, the Palestinian American Women’s Association, the New York Chapter of the Muslim Defense Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine — had earlier signed a letter opposing Odeh’s indictment. They claimed the case against Odeh was “a clear signal that federal authorities, along with Israel and its supporters in the U.S., are continuing to search for ways to intimidate and silence those who are effective advocates for Arab American communities, and who speak out for Palestinian rights.”
Such groups are quick to echo Odeh’s allegations of Israeli torture, but they fail to mention the two young men murdered in the bombing.
That’s especially frustrating to the surviving Joffe family, says Eddie’s brother Basil: “Now that the truth is out, [many groups] are still supporting her. They’re regarding her as a hero, and they’re ignoring what she did.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.