Chicago, IL – A standing room only crowd of over 1200 people packed the International Union of Operating Engineers hall for the August 12 farewell event in honor of Palestinian liberation icon Rasmea Odeh. The hosts were those forces that had worked tirelessly on her behalf for four years: the Rasmea Defense Committee, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR), and the Coalition to Protect People’s Rights.
Guests were energetically greeted by volunteers: two dozen Arab American, African American and Latino youth from the community in which Rasmea has organized for more than a decade. The emcees, Hatem Abudayyeh and Nesreen Hasan of USPCN, thanked and acknowledged each of the 50 local and national organizations that endorsed the event.
As the lights dimmed on stage, Nesreen introduced a special video by Tom Callahan. Photos of Rasmea at community events flashed across the projector screens to the soundtrack of a powerful poem in Arabic and English by Rania Salem about Rasmea and Palestinian liberation. The video also featured interviews with community organizers who worked closely with Rasmea, including Fatmah Tabally of the Arab American Action Network and Rosi Carrasco of Organized Communities Against Deportations.
Emcee Nesreen Hasan highlighted that one of Rasmea’s greatest accomplishments as a community organizer was founding the over 800-member Arab Women’s Committee (AWC). In Arabic, Maysoon Gharbieh gave a moving speech about her experience in the AWC, explaining how it provided both an environment where she was comfortable to share her struggles as an immigrant Arab woman and the skills to challenge the racist attacks against her community.
Between speakers, political hip-hop artists Rebel Diaz and Shadia Mansour electrified the crowd with songs that praised resistance to political repression, police crimes, and the U.S.-Israeli occupation. Local singing duo KoStar performed the poignant Chi City Goddamn Goddamn, about the infamous Chicago police murder of Laquan McDonald.
Meredith Aby of CSFR spoke passionately about the mass mobilization of hundreds of supporters to every one of Rasmea’s Detroit and Cincinnati court hearings in her fight against persecution by the U.S. Attorney. Aby emphasized the major victory brought by these mobilizations: Rasmea will not be forced to spend a single day in prison or immigration detention. The goal of the U.S. government was a minimum sentence of five to seven years. Rasmea’s legal team was also brought on stage and honored with awards for its incredible defense work.
Rasmea Odeh: The case of a Palestinian hero
After living in this country for 20 years, Rasmea was charged in 2013 with an immigration violation that was always just a pretext to criminalize the Palestine liberation movement.
The U.S. government alleges Rasmea did not disclose her ‘conviction’ in Palestine by an Israeli military court over 48 years ago. She was captured in a mass arrest of 500 Palestinians, and found guilty based on a confession coerced through torture, including electric shock and sexual assault.
Rasmea testified about her torture at the United Nations when she was released in 1979. Her lead attorney Michael Deutsch of the People’s Law Office insisted, “It was well known that she was convicted…The U.S. Embassy knew it, the State Department knew it, and Immigration should have known it.”
Through the massive organized defense campaign to win justice for Rasmea, the U.S.-backed state of Israel has been put on trial, and its policy of torture and sexual assault is on permanent record in a U.S. court of law.
African American-Palestinian solidarity The entire hall shook with thunderous applause as keynote speaker and former African American political prisoner, Dr. Angela Davis, took the stage. For many years, Davis has been a vocal supporter of the Palestine liberation movement against the U.S.-Israeli occupation. It was Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which was formed out of the struggle to free Angela Davis in the early 1970s, who raised Rasmea’s case to Davis.
Chapman was awarded for his commitment to African American-Palestinian solidarity, and he then introduced Davis to the stage. To a crowd of raised solidarity fists, Davis exclaimed, “Many of us are sad and angry that we could not achieve a complete victory in Rasmea’s case. As Fidel used to say, ‘We will turn a defeat into a victory!’”
Davis added that while Rasmea will be forced to leave her community by the U.S. government, her case has been raised to the national and international level, creating a base of mass support to resist future political attacks against the Palestinian and Arab American communities of Chicago and beyond.
As Rasmea graced the stage, she was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers for several minutes. She made a pledge of continued resistance, that no matter where she will go, she will always fight for Palestinian liberation.
The Rasmea Defense Committee is urging everyone to join us in Detroit on August 17 at 1:30 p.m., to show our love and support for Rasmea at her sentencing in Federal Court, 231 W. Lafayette Blvd. This will be her last court appearance and Rasmea is planning to make a statement.