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.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: February 28, 1966

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  1. "She was convicted in that case, partly on the basis of a coerced confession, and sentenced to life in prison."

    On the basis of what she claimed was a coerced confession. Is there really any reason to believe the claim? Not so far as I've heard.

    1. I'm going to have to say. The commenter on the previous article put a very bad light on the claim of coerced confession. Normally I'm sympathetic to the claim. 10 hour interrogations followed by saying that we'll arrest your family if you don't confess, it's a pretty strong motivator to admit to something you didn't do.

      But, per the previous guy, apparently she's claiming that the Israeli officers forced her father to rape her? That sounds highly improbable for a first world power. Especially if her father is denying the claim.

      Hopefully the author will go into exactly how she is claiming to have been coerced, because right now, if she made the claim the other guy said she did, her credibility of coercion is zero and any other claims she makes would need to be taken in the light of how willing she is to make up fantastical tales when it suits her.

      1. How long did this book take to write? A lot of time and effort about the lies of a liar.

        1. Will there be a book about the treatment of prisoners by Hamas?

    2. It's a plausible claim. People under attack by terrorists are not known for their respect for civil rights, and neither are police in general even in peaceful societies.

      But she later admitted her part in the bombing, which was more coercive to her victims than the police and/or military were to her. Has she ever apologized, expressed true remorse, or made amends? If not, why does she expect Israel or the US to make amends to her?

      IANAL. One of the way I judge warrants and all judicial proceedings is that winning, or being correct, absolves a lot of sins. If you torture someone and get a false confession, your victim should get to return the favor at a time and place of their choosing. Get a true confession, especially when the confessor has previously denied any involvement, and any rebound would be a lot less. In other words, warrants put skin in the game. In this case, she was guilty, she knew it, she lied about it, stalled justice, and while I am not devoid of sympathy, it's pretty low.

      1. If it actively and directly saved someone, I'd be forgiving of the means. A.k.a. you tortured someone into telling you were a kidnapped kid has been stashed or a bomb had been planted in time to rescue the kid or defuse the bomb. But it needs to be an active crime in progress to get this kind of leeway in my mind. Not a crime being planned or a crime that has already occurred.

        Once the crime is over, you have time to do things right, and all you'll get for solving it is justice. You won't bring anyone back or even truly make any of the victims whole again. You don't have justification for taking and ends justifies the means approach. Especially if your means undermine the legitimacy of your ends. Getting a confession is pointless if it can't be trusted due to torture.

      2. Oh, I agree, the general claim to have been tortured into a false confession isn't inherently implausible. Terrorism suspects don't get the best of treatment, and it's quite possible her confession wouldn't have been admissible in an American court.

        It's just that the other evidence of guilt being so extensive, there doesn't appear to have been any reason they should have bothered to extract a confession by torture. And her confederates have been quite clear about her involvement.

        I don't think there's any real doubt about her guilt, or that she obtained her citizenship here fraudulently.

        1. Police are also known for torturing / beating up prisoners even after confession, even for petty crimes, just because they didn't like the cut of their jib, or just because, period.

          I am not disputing her guilt. I am not claiming she was tortured.

      3. Israeli police do have recorded cases of torturing Palestinians for confessions - police have been convicted of it, too, so it isn't just outsider claims. So there is room to claim that it could have happened.
        Note: I don't believe it here, especially the, er, more "embellished" parts.

        The author here lightly skips over the conviction with "partially on the basis of", completely ignoring the witnesses that put her there, the co-conspirators that put her there, the bomb-making plans and materials in her home, her presence at at least one other (no fatality) bombing, and so on.

        The author also fails to mention that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is an open terrorist group that proudly claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks and aircraft hijackings. In fact, looking at Wikipedia, they've claimed more than I though.

        Just like the title of his book, this author is off to a really bad start on the "honest presentation" front.

  2. I imagine the trials were very wrenching for her. I imagine the explosions were even more wrenching for her victims.

    I have stated this in a previous comment, I am not a disinterested party, being an Israeli citizen and resident, however I have no objection to reading and supporting disinterested research. I am attempting to withhold judgement as to what this research and analysis is, however the blurbs on the book from the previous post, combined with this post are leading me to only one conclusion. I hope I am mistaken.

  3. Apparently the Judge in her US trial became convinced the torture didn't happen in part because her confession matched in detail the confession of another participant.

    Whether coercion is the same as torture I reserve judgment and am open to being convinced.

    I also wonder how she obtained a Schengen Visa to get into Germany. As I understand it she must have claimed to be at least a resident of Israel or possibly presented an Israeli passport.

    1. That doesn't really establish that the confession wasn't obtained with torture, though; Just that it probably wasn't fraudulent.

    2. According to the German government's visa website, residents of the Palestinian Territories can just straight up apply for a visa like anyone else.

  4. Torture is bad, mmkay? And it can lead to false confessions. (So, for that matter, can lengthy interrogations without actual torture.) But in this case, it looks like the torture (if it took place) yielded a true confession. And if the objective fact is that she is a murderer, we shouldn't close our eyes to that fact, and should exclude her from our country, regardless of what unseemly measures made it possible for us to know that fact.

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