US witch hunt against prominent activists targets Palestinian Rasmea Odeh

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The concentrated assault on Palestine solidarity activists in the United States is an extension of Israel’s war on Palestinian activism – it is a criminalization of resistance that is carried out by way of FBI raids, the targeting of charity organizations like the Holy Land Fund, and spying operations executed by local law enforcement.

On October 22, 2013, 67-year-old Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a Palestinian community leader, activist, and the associate director of the Arab American Action Network, was arrested by the US Department of Homeland Security at her home in Chicago and charged with “unlawful procurement of naturalization.” According to a report by independent journalist Charlotte Silver for Electronic Intifada, Odeh “was granted [US] citizenship in November 2004 after living as a permanent resident in Detroit, Michigan, and later Chicago, Illinois, since 1995.” In 1969, Odeh “was arrested in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers at her home [in Ramallah], and for twenty-five days her interrogators tortured her,” Silver wrote in The Nation. Odeh was tortured physically, mentally and sexually while in Israeli custody, yet despite this the US Federal District Court judge refused to allow the jury to hear testimony of the torture and she was recently found guilty.

Jaime Omar Yassin, writer, Block the Boat activist and co-founder of Biblioteca Popular based near Oakland, California, tells Al-Akhbar English that Rasmea Odeh's case:

“is the product of a witch-hunt by the FBI, looking for anything to tarnish and intimidate Palestinian activists in the Chicago area with. Odeh had already served 10 years in prison, was released, and gave public comments about her experiences as a prisoner – she was hiding nothing. The case is a tragic travesty of justice against an inspirational figure who has already suffered greatly at the hands of the US-sponsored Israeli torturers and rapists. It will also have a chilling effect on those seeking justice for Palestine.

The case of Odeh is extreme, but it follows the example of numerous government politically motivated prosecutions, like those against other Chicago-area activists such as Hatem Abudayah, and high profile travesties of justice like the prosecutions and accusations of the Holy Land Foundation and CAIR. These kinds of witch hunts are by no means limited to the federal government – at universities, instructors such as Steve Salaita and students at Loyola, Florida Atlantic University and DePaul and so many other universities face real and serious sanctions for their BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] and Palestinian solidarity work and commentary. In many cases, organizations, and local, federal and Israeli governments are working hand in hand to prosecute, persecute and smear these activists.

The intention is to create a climate of fear amongst Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity activists, and a general climate of suspicion and hyperactive worry in the general public about Palestinian activism. And it works. I also was the target of a smear campaign by Zionists and their supporters when I became a high-profile member of the Occupy Oakland Media Committee. Their goal was to create panic around my Palestinian identity and political work by linking me to another Palestinian accused of terror in Latin America. Despite the fact that they largely failed, the damage to reputation and the maligning of human rights work in the Palestinian context is and was very real. We must stand strong as activists and denounce these witch hunts at every opportunity.”

The Electronic Intifada reports that on November 12, activists in Oakland “chained themselves to the federal courthouse,” protesting Odeh’s guilty verdict, and “five were arrested by local police just hours after their protest began.” “They were cited and released,” Electronic Intifada staff writer Nora Barrows-Friedman writes. Activists “will continue to protest, and vow to intensify their efforts” according to a press release published by the US Palestinian Community Network. “The targeting of Rasmea is purely to criminalize Palestinians who are outspoken and critical of Israel’s oppression and occupation of Palestine,” says Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC).

Noura Khouri, a Bay Area activist, writer and community organizer who was arrested during the protest, tells Al-Akhbar English that:

“If convicted for allegedly ‘lying’ on her immigration forms, 67-year-old Palestinian community leader Rasmea Odeh could face up to 10 years in prison, be stripped of her US citizenship and deported. The Federal Government's indictment of Odeh is not only an attack on the Palestinian community, it is also part of an escalating trend and sending a clear message of intimidation to the broad, diverse and growing Palestinian movement.

What is most striking about this case, however, is reflected in the sheer magnitude of hypocrisy that we as American citizens must deal with on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the federal government is directly engaged in colluding with the banks and corporations which have led to the collapse of the global financial market, foreclosures and private prisons/mass incarceration which have disproportionately impacted poor people – mostly for petty crimes – and communities of color.

Oakland, has always been a center for militant activism, and building solidarity amongst third world liberation movements, against these racist and imperialist policies. We will continue our ongoing work and escalate our tactics and do all we can to stop the vicious attacks on our communities.”

The prosecution of Rasmea Odeh, and the persecution of Professor Steve Salaita, in what journalist Chris Hedges called “a war by Israel on American Universities,” is part of the greater, and intensely politicized, fishing expedition targeting not only Palestinian-Americans but Arab-Americans and those choosing to associate themselves with the Palestinian cause. It is a coordinated effort by the United States government to undermine any and all forms of resistance against Israel, especially those with American roots.

The Patriot Act, which was proposed and subsequently signed into law by George W. Bush soon after the September 11 attacks, remains a vital tool which has been used to facilitate mass surveillance and data collection, with Palestine solidarity groups often marked for close observation. “Providing material support for terrorism,” a provision of the Patriot Act that augments material support laws, which was renewed in 2011 until 2015 by the Obama administration, is often used to threaten Palestine solidarity activists. In 2011, the Obama administration used “the prohibition on material support like a weapon against activists trying to break Israel’s blockade,” according to Alternet World Editor and Mondoweiss Assistant Editor Alex Kane. State surveillance remains unrestrained, with sights set on other activists and organizations, a majority of them Black and people of color, including Ashanti Alston Omowali, an anarchist and former member of the Black Panther Party, Peoples’ Justice for Community Control and Police Accountability, and the group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM).

In “Human Rights in Our Own Backyard: Injustice and Resistance in the United States” (Armaline, Glasberg, Purkayastha) the authors note that the Patriot Act has attempted to "define who terrorists are, what kind of actions can constitute terrorist activity, and what the appropriate and legitimate consequences of such activity should be.” Despite this, there is still "no truly established, agreed-upon definition of terrorism" due to the ambiguity of interpretations. The implications of “terrorism” and “material support” being polysemous terms means that the executive branch is then able to carry out witch hunts, persecuting any persons they wish without any judicial oversight. Activist communities find themselves swept up in the open-ended US War on Terror, subject to surveillance infiltration, intimidation, discrimination, and harassment, echoing Israel’s tactics in occupied Palestine. Israel is an aggressive electronic police state, with “racially-based” policies focused on Palestinians.

Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney, activist and assistant professor at George Mason University, tells Al-Akhbar English that:

“The persecution of Palestinian activists is endemic, indicating an expansive trend to criminalize resistance well beyond the question of Palestine. The US has similarly criminalized activities concerning racial justice as we saw in the infiltration of the Black Panther movement, also known as the CointelPro. That was an extension of a systemic effort to combat communism as we saw with an era of blacklisting and the McCarran-Walter Act. Palestine advocacy fits within that legacy because it similarly threatens state hegemony. One of the most epic cases of this kind was the prosecution of the LA Eight – the prosecution of seven Palestinians and one Kenyan for the dissemination of literature on behalf of the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine]. The defendants were all exonerated on First Amendment grounds in 2007 after 20 years of litigation. More recently, Orange County pressed criminal charges against 11 students for disrupting a speech by former [Israeli] ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine and became known as the Irvine 11. In academia, the punishment for violating a certain heterodoxy on Israel and Palestine has resulted in far more silencing than actual recrimination. Nonetheless, several scholars have lost their appointments, like Steven Salaita and Norman Finkelstein, and others have had to fight sordid battles like Joseph Massad, Rabab Abdelhadi, and Nadia Abu al-Haj, just to name a few.”

The picture that emerges after the Rasmea Odeh verdict points to the menacing widening gyre of state surveillance and the troubling targeting of Black and Brown communities, but the response by members of the activist community in its diverse, multilayered and intersectional spirit has not wavered. The people stand with Rasmea, they stand with all subjugated peoples, they will resist the violent US-Israel coordinated surveillance of their communities, and they stand with the people of Palestine.

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator. She tweets @roqchams and writes 'Letters From the Underground.'

Comments

We all have to stand with Rasmea Odeh. This discrimination is not to be appreciated. We have to stand with innocent peoples of Palestine. God Bless Them..

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