Following the guilty verdict against Chicago-based Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh on Monday, activists in Chicago and Oakland held rallies and direct actions protesting the conviction and demanding her release.
In an interview with The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday, contributor Charlotte Silver said that “for a lot of the activists who were organizing the rallies outside the courthouse every day, who have been organizing really across the country in support of Rasmea for this past year, they are very aware that this is an attack on their community.”
In downtown Oakland today, activists chained themselves to the federal courthouse, condemning the trial as one that was politically-motivated in an attempt by the US government to silence Palestine solidarity activism around the country. The five activists were arrested by local police just hours after their protest began. They were cited and released.
In a recent press release, the US Palestinian Community Network states that “Activists in the [San Francisco] Bay Area will continue to protest, and vow to intensify their efforts until Odeh is released … The case against Odeh was originally part of a larger federal investigation in Chicago and Minneapolis,” USPCN adds, where the US government has led a probe of Palestine solidarity activists and Palestinian community organizers in the Midwest.
Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, explains in the press release that “The targeting of Rasmea is purely to criminalize Palestinians who are outspoken and critical of Israel’s oppression and occupation of Palestine.”
Supporters of Rasmea Odeh will hold a rally in New York City on Friday.
“Her absence was felt”
Charlotte Silver says that Gershwin Drain, the trial judge, openly dismissed Odeh’s legacy of work within the Arab community in the Midwest, ignoring the crowds of supporters who gathered at the courthouse every day of the trial last week and during Monday’s hearing.
“[It] was very shocking — he said ‘I don’t believe you have any community ties in Chicago that would keep you here.’ And this is after a week of seeing the courtroom full, packed, requiring a spillover room on the seventh floor for people who had traveled from Chicago to stay in Detroit to watch this trial,” Silver explains. “And he said, dismissively, ‘this is the kind of work you could really do anywhere.’”
The judge ordered Odeh to be led away in handcuffs and taken into custody to a county jail near Detroit. “It was really brutal,” Silver notes. “I think people had braced themselves for a guilty verdict, but they really had no way of expecting that she wouldn’t be coming home with them that day, and that she wouldn’t be exiting the courthouse with them that day.”
The crowd of supporters, Silver adds, experienced “a sort of momentum after every day of the trial, and Rasmea was really leading that momentum. She really showed such strength every day, and her absence was really felt.”
Listen to the entire interview via the media player above, or read the transcript below.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: So, Rasmea was taken away in handcuffs on Monday afternoon. Talk about what happened, and why she’s been taken into custody until her sentencing months from now.
Charlotte Silver: The jury found her guilty after less than two hours of deliberation and after the verdict was announced, the prosecution surprised the defense and Rasmea by making a motion to have her bond — on which she was released last October — revoked, meaning she would be taken immediately into custody.
Rasmea’s lawyers had not prepared any argument against this motion, but really didn’t expect the judge to grant it to the government. It was based on — as [lawyer] Michael Deutsch said, Rasmea Odeh is fighing this charge because she wants to stay in America, that’s why she didn’t accept a plea bargain when they offered it to her last year, she doesn’t believe that she committed a crime, and she wants to stay in America. She doesn’t want to be deported, so there’s no logical conclusion to reach that she is a flight risk, and she also clearly poses no danger.
But the judge did grant it, and surprisingly, or tellingly, did so by invoking the fact that Rasmea Odeh attempted to escape Israeli prison in 1975, and he said “this is what you do when you don’t respect the authority of a court.” And because she had criticized the verdict that had been reached … between the verdict being announced and the hearing in the afternoon on Monday, he said “I think you pose a flight risk.”
And, he also — which was very shocking — he said “I don’t believe you have any community ties in Chicago that would keep you here.” And this is after a week of seeing the courtroom full, packed, requiring a spillover room on the seventh floor for people who had traveled from Chicago to stay in Detroit to watch this trial. And he said, dismissively, “this is the kind of work you could really do anywhere.”
NBF: Charlotte, you reported also that the judge commented on the guilty verdict, basically praising the jury for convicting her, which is rare and proves that he steered this case in the direction he wanted. Can you talk about that?
CS: Yeah. After the jury announced their verdict, he said, “I don’t usually do this, but the conclusion you reached was a fair and reasonable one.” And the jury doesn’t know all the information that was not allowed in, which the judge prevented from getting in, which was that Rasmea was tortured for 25 days before signing a confession and subsequently being convicted by an Israeli military court. They don’t know anything about the Israeli military court, but they did hear, repeated again and again, that she was convicted of a series of bombings in Jerusalem that resulted in the death of two civilians.
They heard that countless times. The parameters of the entire trial were so narrowed by Judge Drain that the verdict was really written from the outset of the trial.
NBF: What was the reaction from her supporters and her legal team to the way she was treated — not just in the unjust nature of the trial itself, as the judge refused to let the full evidence about her torture and confession into the courtroom, but after she was convicted, and handcuffed and taken to jail, what was the mood like in front of the courthouse and after the hearing?
CS: Well, it was really brutal, and it was — I think people had braced themselves for a guilty verdict, but they really had no way of expecting that she wouldn’t be coming home with them that day, and that she wouldn’t be exiting the courthouse with them that day.
So there was a real somberness. There was a stunned and shocked feeling across the crowd. Many people crying. And there was a sense — they had a sort of momentum after every day of the trial, and Rasmea was really leading that momentum. She really showed such strength every day, and her absence was really felt.
NBF: In speaking with the lawyers and the Rasmea Odeh defense committee, what’s the next step?
CS: The judge has offered Deutsch, [and] her defense attorneys, the opportunity to file a motion to reconsider remanding her into custody until the sentencing. So that’s what they’ve been doing today, and when I talked to them yesterday they were planning on filing it as soon as Wednesday.
So they’re hoping to compile more information to counter the idea that she doesn’t have community ties in Chicago that would keep her here and not make her a flight risk. Because Deutsch wasn’t prepared to argue that in court right at that moment, there is some hope that he will be able to put forth a strong argument, but at the same time, this judge has really revealed that he believes Odeh to be a criminal and that she should be incarcerated. And the prosecution has indicated that they are going to seek no less than 21 months for her imprisonment, which is the maximum precedent, and she could very well face more than that, if the judge wishes.
So that sentencing hearing won’t be until 10 March, which Judge Drain said was the soonest that it could take place. Hopefully there will be another hearing to allow her to be out on bond until then.
NBF: Finally, Charlotte, in your experience covering this trial, what do you think this says about the nature of the US government going after Palestinian social justice and human rights activists at this time?
CS: Well, I think for a lot of the activists who were organizing the rallies outside the courthouse every day, who have been organizing really across the country in support of Rasmea for this past year, they are very aware that this is an attack on their community, and this was the charge that prosecutors were able to have stick — this charge of unlawful procurement of immigration by Rasmea Odeh.
But they have an open investigation into 23 Palestine solidarity activists in the Midwest right now, and they’ve refused to close it. And so there is a chill factor going on, and that’s one of the reasons why a lot of these people are mobilizing in support of Rasmea.