Feminist scholars to Obama: End prosecution of Palestinian survivor of sexual torture

Rasmea Odeh (left) and attorney Jim Fennerty with supporters outside the US federal courthouse in Detroit on 13 November 2013.

Ali Abunimah

Between 1969-1979, Rasmea Odeh served ten years in an Israeli prison. Her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of 45 days of sexual and physical torture while in detention. Following her release, she was exiled from her Palestinian homeland and eventually immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1994 as a legal resident where she tried to put her memories of torture behind her. She later became a naturalized citizen.

In the US, Rasmea settled in Chicago where she became the associate director of the Arab American Action Network, a social service and community organization. There, she established the Arab Women’s Committee, a grassroots collective that promotes leadership among Arab immigrant women, challenges systems of oppression that impact Arab women’s lives and secures a positive and safe political, economic, social, and cultural environment for Arab women and their communities. In 2013, the Chicago Cultural Alliance granted Rasmea its Outstanding Community Leader Award in recognition of her devotion of “over forty years of her life to the empowerment of Arab women.”

Now, Rasmea is being persecuted again for not giving account of her time in jail after her torture 45 years ago on her naturalization application in 2004.

On 22 October 2013, the US Department of Justice arrested Rasmea Odeh at her home in the Chicago Suburbs. The Department of Justice alleges that Odeh failed to disclose on her naturalization application that she had served time in Israeli jail – even though her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of weeks of torture. Rasmea faces up to ten years in US prison, fines up to $250,000 and potential deportation and de-naturalization.

The Israeli state avoids any blame for the politically motivated abuse and imprisonment of Rasmea. The criminal charges she faces for alleged immigration fraud in the US are also politically motivated. They are based upon naturalization papers she filed ten years ago in 2004 and sprang from an illegal federal investigation of 23 Palestinian and anti-war activists that violates First Amendment rights.

They are also connected to a long history of federal authorities using fear and repression to silence Palestinian-American activists and intimidate immigrant women from participating in social justice movements.

Rasmea Odeh has suffered enough already. When the Israeli military arrested her, they also arrested her family members shortly after her arrest and destroyed her family’s home. Odeh’s 1969 conviction in Israel was determined by a court system that systematically abuses Palestinians’ due process rights, has a record of torture and sexual abuse of Palestinian women, men, and children, and convicts Palestinians at a rate of 99.74 percent.

As feminist scholars, we call on the Department of Justice to drop the charges against Rasmea Odeh. We extend our deepest support to Rasmea in the face of injustice. We recognize her as a leader in the international struggle to empower women and end violence against women. We recognize the pain and suffering she endured in Israeli prisons and we honor her for testifying before a United Nations Committee in Geneva as a survivor of sexual torture.

We honor her decades of feminist activism on behalf of Arab and Muslim immigrant women living in poverty in Chicago. Rasmea built the Arab Women’s Committee and its base of nearly six hundred Arab immigrant women from scratch when she went door to door as a recent immigrant herself and made phone calls to households with Arabic names from the white pages.

She developed an infrastructure for disenfranchised Arab immigrant and refugee women to obtain social services and support and she established English as a second language courses through which immigrant women perform plays, write their immigration stories and form deep friendships, sisterhood, and solidarity.

Because of Rasmea’s work, immigrant and refugee women who came to the US from countries facing war and political crises – like Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and beyond – now have a place to seek support, gain empowerment and community and call their home.

Rasmea’s story encompasses some of the most urgent feminist struggles of our times – violence against women and the use of sexual violence as a tool of colonization and war; the impact of racism and anti-immigrant policies upon women; the criminalization of women of color; and the use of intimidation to thwart feminist activism.

Rasmea’s trial is set to begin 4 November 2014, in Detroit, Michigan.

We call upon all feminist movements to stand with gender justice and centralize Rasmea Odeh’s struggle within all of our movements.

We call upon President Obama and the United States Department of Justice to drop the charges against Rasmea Odeh.

  1. Sarah Abboud, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania
  2. Stéphanie Latte Abdallah, Researcher, CNRS (IFPO)
  3. Diya Abdo, Associate Professor, Guilford College
  4. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
  5. Lila Abu-Lughod, Professor, Columbia University
  6. Fida J. Adely, Associate Professor, Georgetown University
  7. Jocelyn Ajami
  8. Nadje Al-Ali, Professor, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  9. Dina Al-Kassim, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  10. Deborah Al-Najjar, University of Southern California
  11. Lori Allen, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
  12. Paul Amar, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
  13. Anjali Arondekar, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
  14. Barbara Aswad, Professor Emerita, Wayne State University
  15. Sa’ed Atshan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University
  16. Elsa Auerbach, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Boston
  17. Kathryn Babayan, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  18. Paola Bacchetta, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley
  19. Joanne Barker, Professor, San Francisco State University
  20. Janet Bauer, Associate Professor, Trinity College
  21. Leila Ben-Nasr, Ohio State University
  22. Sherna Berger-Gluck, California State University, Long Beach
  23. Amahl Bishara, Assistant Professor, Tufts University
  24. Elizabeth Bishop, Associate Professor, Texas State University
  25. Jennifer Brier, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  26. Victoria Brittain, Journalist and Author
  27. L.M. San Pablo Burns, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  28. Louise Cainkar, Associate Professor, Marquette University
  29. Piya Chatterjee, Scripps College
  30. Julia Chinyere Oparah, Professor, Mills College
  31. Andreana Clay, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
  32. Maria Cotera, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  33. Ephrosine Daniggelis
  34. Angela Davis, Distinguished Professor Emirita, University of California, Santa Cruz
  35. Lara Deeb, Professor, Scripps College
  36. Christine Taitano DeLisle, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign
  37. Gina Dent, Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
  38. Lisa Duggan, Professor, New York University
  39. Zillah Eisenstein, Distinguished Feminist Scholar, Ithaca College
  40. Omnia El Shakry, Associate Professor, University of California, Davis
  41. Nada Elia, Independent Scholar
  42. Hoda Elsadda, Professor, Cairo University
  43. Anita Fábos, Associate Professor, Clark University
  44. Roderick Ferguson, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  45. Ellen Fleischmann, Professor, University of Dayton
  46. Cynthia Franklin, Professor, University of Hawai’i
  47. Rosa Linda Fregoso, Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
  48. Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara
  49. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York
  50. Sherna Berger Gluck, Emerita Faculty, California State University, Long Beach
  51. Layla Azmi Goushey, Assistant Professor, St. Louis Community College
  52. Marame Gueye, Associate Professor, East Carolina University
  53. Elena Gutiérrez, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  54. Elaine C. Hagopian, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Simmons College
  55. Sondra Hale, Research Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  56. Hala Halim, Associate Professor, New York University
  57. Najla Hamadeh, Independent Researcher
  58. Michelle Hartman, Associate Professor, McGill University
  59. Nadia Hijab, Author and Human Rights Advocate
  60. Grace Kyungwon Hong, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  61. LeAnne Howe, Professor, University of Georgia
  62. Constantine Inglessis
  63. Jacqueline Khayat Inglessis
  64. Joyce Inglessis
  65. Bushra Jabre, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  66. Lynette Jackson, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  67. Amira Jarmakani, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
  68. Suad Joseph, Distinguish Research Professor University of California, Davis
  69. Mohja Kahf, Professor, University of Arkansas
  70. Ronak Kapadia, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  71. J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor, Wesleyan University
  72. Laleh Khalili, Professor, School of Oriental and African Studies
  73. Sharon Heijin Lee, Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow, New York University
  74. Pardis Mahdavi, Associate Professor, Pomona College
  75. Lisa Suhair Majaj, Writer and Editor
  76. Jean Said Makdisi, Writer
  77. Harriet Malinowitz, Lecturer, Ithaca College
  78. Rania Masri, Associate Director, American University of Beirut
  79. Victor Mendoza, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  80. Hasna Mikdashi, Arab Women’s Studies and Research, NOUR, Cairo
  81. Maya Mikdashi, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University
  82. Minoo Moallem, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
  83. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Distinguished Professor, Syracuse University
  84. Scott L. Morgensen, Associate Professor, Queen’s University
  85. Norma Claire Moruzzi, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  86. Susan Muaddi Darraj
  87. Nadine Naber, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  88. Margo Okazawa-Rey, Professor Emerita, San Francisco State University
  89. Jennifer Olmsted, Professor, Economics, Drew University
  90. Geeta Patel, Associate Professor, University of Virginia
  91. Suvendrini Perera, Professor, Curtin University
  92. Jasbir Puar, Associate Professor, Rutgers University
  93. Michelle Raheja, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  94. Aneil Rallin, Associate Professor, Soka University of America
  95. Barbara Ransby, Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  96. Robin L. Riley, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University
  97. Eleanor Roffman, Professor Emerita, Lesley University
  98. Judy Rohrer, Assistant Professor, Western Kentucky University
  99. Rachel Rubin, Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
  100. Rosemary Sayigh, Researcher and Visiting Professor, Center for Arab and Middle East Studies, American University of Beirut.
  101. Susan Schaefer Davis, Independent Scholar
  102. Laurie Schaffner, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
  103. Malini Johar Schueller, Professor, University of Florida
  104. Sarita See, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  105. May Seikaly, Associate Professor, Wayne State University
  106. Sima Shakhsari, Assistant Professor, Wellesley College
  107. Simona Sharoni, Professor, State University of New York, Plattsburgh
  108. Setsu Shigematsu, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  109. Irene Siegel, Assistant Professor, Hofstra University
  110. Andrea Smith, Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside
  111. Samera Sood
  112. Ahdaf Soueif, writer
  113. Rajini Srikanth, Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
  114. Maria Francesca Stamuli, National Library of Naples
  115. Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Professor, Barnard College
  116. Kim TallBear, Associate Professor, University of Texas, Austin
  117. Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
  118. Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor, The New School for Social Research
  119. Judith E. Tucker, Professor, History, Georgetown University
  120. Karyn Valerius, Associate Professor, Hofstra University
  121. Sherry Vatter, California State University, Long Beach
  122. Maurice L. Wade, Professor, Trinity College
  123. Lee Ann Wang, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii
  124. Jessica Winegar, Associate Professor, Northwestern University




It's obvious that this is an Israeli symphathiser's type of charge and no real analysis of facts has been evaluated !
America is now in the hands of extreemests and Israeli sponsored APAIC supporters, so no responsible government action can be expected or garnered without a political revolution to remove nearly all of the current political establishment both Republican and Democrat from office!
perhaps Elizabeth Warren or Chris Hedges or Jill Stine or Ralph Nader presidency could change this. However my bet is that any of these that succeeded to the presidency would be quickly murdered by a right wing freek just like The two Kennedy brothers and Martin L. King.
To support your agenda we need to have a change in courts to the top. A change in every level of government electing people like those mentioned above. Otherwise it's hopeless!


My feelings are the same and I am American. I loathe the bought and sold leaders who lie for their AIPAC/Israeli extortionists. There is no more shame in them. My only solace is to not recognize the illegitimate zionist occupation of Palestine and to boycott them. If only all decent Americans would STOP paying taxes and boycott DC...there's certainly not enough jails for all of us...and at least those taxes wouldn't be going to the occupation to murder Palestinians. This is ungodly hell.


I encourage her endurance and the rigorous struggle of all Palestinians to throw off the Fascist yoke of Zionism and to stand up for human rights with dignity, and respect for which they deserve.


This is shameful and illegal. Have mercy. Have humanity. Stop Oppression. I pray that she will be allowed to stay along with all the others fleeing oppression. Isn't that what America is is for.


This woman has done no crime. Prosecute Israel for mistreating the Palastinians in an inhumane way. The truth will prevail.


The Palestinian people are being dispossessed of their land and their lives by a racist, colonial ideology that is not the ideology of all Jews.

It took a great deal of courage for Rasmea to fight her way back to a semblance of normalcy; for the US to threaten her with deportation and prison again is obscene. The law without mercy leaves us with shattered lives, bodies and minds.

It is time to cease this woman's persecution, and I urge you to do so.


I'm not a professor. But I've done legal work for women fighting the abuses of the family court system and have published books and articles on victims of abuse, and I endorse the letter in support of Rasmea Odeh.

Much outrage has recently (and rightly) been showered upon the government of Iran for executing a woman who alleged that the man she stabbed had sexually assaulted her. Where is the parallel outrage at the U.S. government for its treatment of Rasmea Odeh, which implicitly countenances Israeli's systematic use of torture -- including sexual abuse -- while heaping additional punishment on one of its victims?


Whether or not this lady confessed under torture is not the issue, the issue is that she lied under OATH, and based on that lie, she was subsequently granted citizenship. It clearly states on the forms that any lie once discovered would lead to prosecution imprisonment loss of citizenship and deportation. If such a precedent is established, then it opens the gate for any one to lie on sworn applications for citizenship, then claim their previous convictions were as a result of torture if ever found out. She has already impacted the lives of so many Arab women for good, why not accept that this is the will of God, for her to continue to carry out her god work in another part of the world. Certainly women in the Arab world would benefit from such experience and leadership qualities


Assuming the existence of a deliberately false statement, are all such statements really grounds for automatic deportation, as you suggest?

Had she stated that her eyes were blue when in fact they're brown, would she be properly prosecuted and deported, ten years later, for that false claim? For that matter, had she been a Chinese human rights activist who failed to report having been prosecuted before a kangaroo court in Beijing (during which proceeding she was also tortured), would you demand her deportation to China for the lapse? And would you sneer that it was "the will of God" that she should continue her activism among the Chinese now that she was "found out"?

It is possible, of course, to answer "yes" to all of these questions. But I wonder how many people are really prepared to take that position -- except where a Palestinian activist is the one under threat. Which brings us back to Rasmea Odeh and the reasons for the protest against her prosecution, all of which your comment evades.


These 2 situations are completely different,, there is no way she had a lapse in memory when failing to report her imprisonment, and her deliberate action can be understood from the point of view of the allegations of torture and sexual abuse against the officials of the Israeli state. Even I am not sure of the colour of my eyes, so any judge would find that such a matter was trivial, even if deporting an activist to China may not be desirable. The point I am trying to make is that, one should not be blind to fate and its leading or direction, it is possible she has a great work to carry out, and fighting such a case may shackle her and not allow her to fulfil God's purpose for her life. America is not heaven, and even if she is deported to the West bank, or any Arab country is that a death sentence? There are others carrying out the struggle there, why can't she contribute there? You and I do not know what her purpose is for the rest of her life, she should hold her head high, and follow her destiny with pride, having achieved so much despite the adversity she has had to come through


"even if she is deported to the West bank, or any Arab country is that a death sentence?"

Yes. Yes it is.
You're a wooly-minded idiot.


Hi, I'm kind of wondering when Americans are going to DO anything. Seems like people have kind of woken up, but actually addressing the power imbalance between the state and the people is another thing. Seems people are too afraid to risk. See a lot of complaints and verbal outrage. But.... just kind of wondering what it will actually take for people to fight for the change so many of us want. Not petition, not march (in circles), etc etc. The powerful grip power in their hands. So when will the people take the risks to fight for their dreams?


I fully support this petition. This persecution of Rasmea Odeh is outrageous.


I am from Australia and I heard about Ms Odeh's situation and I am outraged. And yet it doesn't escape my awareness that I too come from a racist country with pro-Zionist, anti refugee, racist, fascist, sexist policies.
As a Jew, I apologise to Ms Odeh, for although the evils of Zionism are not in my name, they continue while Jewish people who should know what it is to be violently persecuted, sit back and do nothing.
Ms Odeh is being criminalised twice for crimes which are not her own. I support this petition and call shame on America. Our big daddy is showing us again how to be the murderous, violent bully of the world. Shame.