The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Trials of Rasmea Odeh, Part Three—Immigration and Indictment

Freed from prison in an exchange with the PFLP, Odeh made no effort to hide her involvement in the Supersol bombing—until she decided to immigrate to the United States.


This is the third of five posts on The Trials of Rasmea Odeh.

Rasmea Odeh's PFLP comrades made numerous attempts to coerce her freedom through hijackings and hostage taking. In 1970, the quadruple airplane hijackings of "Black September" were carried out in the name of "Task Force Rasmea Odeh." Her freedom was again sought in a foiled hijacking in May 1972, and her name was on the list of prisoners whose release was demanded by the guerrillas who carried out the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The PFLP was finally successful in March 1979, when the Israelis released 76 prisoners, Odeh among them, in exchange for an IDF soldier captured in Lebanon.

Odeh's release was celebrated by a full-page poem in the PFLP magazine, which praised her for having joined "the troops of the revolution" with "a prophecy of the gun." She settled in Amman, Jordan, where she obtained a law degree and worked as a university researcher, calling it "the best period in my life."

There was no reason for Odeh to deny the Jerusalem bombing while living in Amman. She was admired as among first four Palestinian women to be "an active guerrilla," and she freely discussed her PFLP "military work" with interviewers from Lebanon and the U.S., as well as on Jordanian television.

Everything changed in 1996 when Odeh's family asked her to move to the U.S., to help her brother care for their cancer-stricken father, both of whom had become U.S. citizens. Odeh fraudulently obtained a family unification visa by lying on the application. She falsely denied ever having committed a crime, claimed she had never belonged to any organizations, and denied ever having been arrested, convicted, or imprisoned.

Ultimately settling in Chicago, Odeh led a peaceful and admirable life as a community organizer, eventually becoming associate director of the Arab American Action Network. Her writing workshops for immigrant women were funded by a grant from the University of Illinois. The Chicago Cultural Alliance gave her an award as an "Outstanding Community Leader," unaware of her background as a PFLP bomber. She lied in her naturalization application and interview, denying that she had ever been convicted or imprisoned, and became a U.S. citizen in 2005.

Odeh's citizenship fraud was discovered by accident during the FBI investigation of one of her coworkers. She was indicted on one count of fraudulently procuring U.S. citizenship in late 2013. Following arraignment in Chicago, her case was set for trial in Detroit, where her naturalization interview had taken place.

Chicago's Arab and Muslim community reacted almost immediately to Odeh's arrest. Within days, the AAAN issued a statement signed by over 50 organizations, charging that the indictment was a plot by "Israel and its supporters" to suppress the Palestinian movement in the U.S.

Progressive, leftist, and mainstream organizations, including the Peace and Justice Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, also rallied to Odeh's defense. Either cynically or credulously, they spread false stories about the case. They claimed that Odeh had been arrested in Israel only for anti-occupation "activism," asserting her innocence of the bombing, and exaggerating the duration and nature of her mistreatment in custody. The AAAN and other leftist groups repeatedly insisted that Odeh's arrest was part of an Israel-inspired conspiracy to crush the Palestinian movement in the U.S.

Odeh's representation was undertaken by two veterans of Chicago's leftist bar, both stalwarts of the National Lawyers Guild. Michael Deutsch, a founder of the legendary Peoples Law Office, had represented Black Panthers, SDS Weathermen, and survivors of the Attica prisoners' rebellion. His co-counsel James Fennerty got his start representing the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee.

Together, Deutsch and Fennerty presented a vigorous defense, never straying far from the Israel conspiracy theory, and only loosely tethered to the actual facts, which will be the subject of my final post.