The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Trials of Rasmea Odeh, Part One—Joining the PFLP 

A Palestinian woman was convicted of a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem and served ten years in an Israeli prison. Then she lied her way into the United States.


Many thanks to Eugene for giving me an opportunity to blog about my new book, The Trials of Rasmea Odeh. It is the story of a Palestinian woman who faced two wrenching trials in her lifetime, over forty years apart. The first trial was for the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969, which took the lives of two Hebrew University students. She was convicted in that case, partly on the basis of a coerced confession, and sentenced to life in prison. Odeh was released after ten years in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP. She immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became a naturalized citizen in 2005, both times falsely denying that she had ever been convicted of a crime or imprisoned (as well as other false denials on the visa and citizenship applications).

Rasmea Odeh was born in 1947 in the village of Lifta, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Her family was evacuated to Ramallah in early 1948, shortly before the fighting began between the nascent state of Israel and Arab and Palestinian forces. As refugees, the Odeh family lived for a time in a tent, eventually becoming prosperous enough to buy a house in nearby al-Birah.

Odeh grew up in the West Bank, which was then under Jordanian rule. According to a 1980 interview she gave to a Lebanese journalist, she began attending Communist Party meetings, which were illegal under Jordanian law, as a young teenager.

Israel occupied the West Bank, including Ramallah/al-Birah, in the June 1967 war. Odeh almost immediately became involved in resistance activities, such as organizing and stone throwing, but she had become, in her words, "convinced that military action was more important than social or political work" as the means of Palestinian liberation. She joined the Arab National Movement, a precursor of the PFLP, and undertook clandestine weapons training with arms abandoned by the fleeing Jordanians.

Soon, however, Odeh decided that she could best serve the movement by attending medical school in Lebanon. She obtained an exit permit from the Israeli military government and left for Beirut that fall. In fact, she had a dual agenda. With assistance from her contacts in the ANM, she arranged to meet with Dr. Wadi Haddad, a Palestinian physician who was then, together with Dr. George Habash, in the process of founding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Odeh became one of the PFLP's early West Bank recruits. She returned home at the end of the academic year, traveling through Jordan, where she met with other PFLP operatives. Back in Ramallah, she continued her clandestine activities, which included preparations for "military operations" that her accomplices would carry out in the late winter of 1969.

Unbeknownst to Odeh, Israeli intelligence operatives were aware of her meetings with Haddad in Beirut and guerrilla leaders in Amman. She was under scrutiny from the time she returned to Ramallah from Lebanon, making her a logical suspect when a bomb ripped through the Jerusalem Supersol, the largest supermarket in Israel.

The following posts will cover Odeh's apprehension and trial in Israel, her arrest in the U.S. for immigration fraud, the rallying of American progressives to her defense, and the prosecution and defense cases at her U.S. criminal trial.