Supporters rally for Arab activist in immigration case

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Dozens of supporters gathered Wednesday at a fundraiser to help Rasmea Odeh, a Chicago activist who faces sentencing this week for not telling U.S. immigration officials about her role in terrorist bombings that killed two people in Israel more than 45 years ago.

“We’ve never believed that this is an immigration case,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network and spokesman for the Rasmea Defense Committee.

“The immigration charge was nothing but a pretext to attack a leading member of the Palestinian community, one who has represented the cause of Palestinian liberation from Israeli occupation, colonialism, racism and apartheid for almost 50 years.”

Odeh, who is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday, spoke briefly at the Arab American National Museum, thanking her supporters for helping her “face this difficult task.” The Palestinian native faces deportation.

Supporters have raised nearly $90,000 for her defense, Abudayyeh said.

Last fall, Odeh, who previously spelled her name Rasmieh, was convicted of failing to disclose her conviction for 1969 bombings in Jerusalem when she sought citizenship in Detroit in 2004.

Israel imprisoned Odeh for life over her role in the bombings, including one that killed Hebrew University students Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner at a grocery store.

Odeh and supporters claim Israeli authorities tortured her into confessing.

Israel released her in 1979 in a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group behind the bombings.

Odeh entered the United States in 1995. Until her 2013 arrest, she managed daily operations at the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. Supporters with the Rasmea Defense Committee, which hosted the Wednesday fundraiser, describe her as a respected organizer and mentor.

About 60 supporters Wednesday greeted Odeh with warm applause and a standing ovation.

“The community is behind Rasmea, 100 percent,” said George Khoury, a Palestinian-American from Huntington Woods. “We hate to be looked upon all the time as supporters of terrorism just because we are Arab.

“This is a humanitarian issue. If she did something wrong, she should be prosecuted, but not over-punished.”

The event also drew Meredith Aby-Keirstead, who is active with the Anti-War Committee in Minnesota and has been following Odeh’s case.

“I really wanted to take an opportunity so I can express my support in person,” she said. “I think the fact that she is being punished for being a victim of torture is unfathomable. I don’t think she got a fair trial. I don’t think the jury got to hear the full story.”

Federal prosecutors in Detroit are seeking at least five years in prison for Odeh.

“I can’t believe all the things she’s gone through,” said Tamanna Azim of Troy, adding a judge should consider “all the good work she’s done.” “Everyone is praying for her.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.