“Free Rasmea Odeh” campaign based on imagined facts and real distortions.
[Note: This post has been updated to reflect additional records obtained after initial publication further demonstrating Rasmea Odeh’s culpability in the bombing of the SuperSol supermarket and casting doubt on her claims of torture]
On November 10, 2014, a federal jury in Detroit returned a guilty verdict against Rasmieh (Rasmea) Yousef Odeh for illegally procuring naturalization by falsely answering questions whether she “ever” had been convicted or imprisoned.
In fact, Rasmea was convicted in 1970 and imprisoned in Israel for 10 years in connection with a 1969 supermarket bombing in Jerusalem in which two university students were killed, and other security offenses including the attempted bombing of the British Consulate.
If this were just another immigration fraud story, it would be unremarkable. Regardless of whether Rasmea’s Israeli conviction and prison time were deserved or just, they happened and needed to be disclosed in response to clear questions on immigration forms. Case closed.
But there is another story here, in which Rasmea, her attorneys and supporters seek to exonerate Rasmea in court and in the court of public opinion by trying to relitigate Rasmea’s 1970 conviction, and the history of the Middle East conflict going back to the creation of the State of Israel
As with all anti-Israeli propaganda campaigns, facts are invented, denied or twisted, and repeated with religious fervor to the point that Rasmea now is portrayed as the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Rasmea has become, in the words of one supporter writing in The Hill, “a Palestinian woman who embodies the Palestinian history of dispossession, struggle and resilience.” The Rasmea Defense Committee calls Rasmea an “icon of the Palestine liberation movement.”
Organizers of protests portray the Israeli conviction as the result of a false confession obtained by torture:
Today, Rasmea Odeh was unjustly found guilty for allegedly lying on her immigration form because she didn’t mention her time in prison in Israel. Along with 500 or so others in 1969, Rasmea was arrested, tortured, and raped until she confessed to a crime she did not commit.
The key elements of the campaign supporting Rasmea are as follows:
1. Rasmea was just a political activist prior to Israeli arrest, picked up because of political activities.
2. Rasmea was swept up in a mass arrest of 500 or more people with no evidence of involvement.
3. Rasmea gave a false confession after 25 days of horrific torture, leading to her conviction.
4. Rasmea was denied the ability to defend herself and was denied access to counsel in the Israeli military court.
5. Rasmea did not receive a fair trial in Israel.
6. Regardless of procedures and confessions, Rasmea was not involved in the SuperSol bombing and is innocent.
7. The U.S. prosecution on immigration charges was unfounded and driven by political support for Israel.
That victim narrative, which will be explored in more detail later in this post, is false based on the known facts and evidence.
As detailed below, the demonstrable facts show that:
1. Prior to her arrest in Israel, Rasmea was a military participant in and organizer for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
2. Rasmea quickly confessed in a highly detailed account just one day after arrest, along with other co-conspirators, one of whom also directly implicated Rasmea as the mastermind in a 2004 documentary.
3. After arrest Rasmea was allowed to and did defend herself in the Israeli military court.
4. Rasmea was represented by counsel.
5. There was an observer from the International Red Cross present who stated that the trial was fair;
6. The evidence of Rasmea’s guilt in the bombing was and is overwhelming, completely independent of Rasmea’s confessions (however obtained).
7. Rasmea herself admitted her involvement in the attempted British Consulate bombing in an interview years later after release from Israeli prison, as did her main co-conspirator who implicated Rasmea in the supermarket bombing as well.
8. The evidence of Rasmea’s immigration fraud was based on the indisputable facts and her own false answers.
This actually is just a story of a terrorist bomber rightly convicted in Israel, who then lied on her visa and naturalization applications to the U.S. and was rightly convicted a second time in federal court in Detroit.
Story Begins: The SuperSol Bombing, February 21, 1969
On February 21, 1969, a bomb detonated in the SuperSol supermarket in Jerusalem, killing two Hebrew University students, Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, who were shopping.
One of Edward’s brothers, who was abroad, learned of the death by telegram:
A second device at the SuperSol, on a delay trigger to go off when rescue responders arrived, was defused seconds before it was to go off.
The SuperSol bombing was one of the first post-1967 war bombings in Israel. The Marxist-Leninist PFLP, founded in 1967 by Dr.George Habash, claimed credit.
The SuperSol bombing was a huge event in Israel, and the funeral attracted crowds in the thousands, as well as Israeli leaders.
On February 25, 1969, another bomb was found at the British Consulate, and neutralized before it exploded.
Rasmea Was PFLP Military Member and Recruiter
Contrary to the portrayal of Rasmea as a mere political activist who was arrested by Israel after the SuperSol bombing for her outspoken views, in reality Rasmea was a military member of the PFLP.
Rasmea’s role was described in the 1996 pro-Palestinian book Daughters of Palestine: Leading Women of the Palestinian National Movement.
Here are sections, from pages 24 and 25, respectively, describing Rasmea (Rasmiyeh) as one of the first female guerrillas:
This description is corroborated by Ayisha Admad Odeh, a co-conspirator in the SuperSol bombing (more on her below) in the 2004 film Women in Struggle.
Ayisha, who spoke openly in the film about Rasmea’s leading role in the SuperSol bombing, described how she was recruited to military work by Rasmea, who even then exhibited media savvy, quickly changing the direction of the interview:
In addition to Ayisha, Rasmea recruited a 17-year old, Samieh Ali Ibrahim Almuyal, to participate in the SuperSol bombing (see below).
So rather than the passive political activist portrayed by her supporters, Rasmea was one of the first PFLP female guerrillas engaged in military action and recruiting.
Bombing Perpetrators Confessed Within Days
The SuperSol bombing took place on February 21, 1969, and the British Consulate attempted bombing on February 25, 1969.
On February 24, 1969,three days after the Supersol bombing, The Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) reported that while almost 100 Arabs had been rounded up for questioning immediately after the bombing, almost all of whom were quickly released:
Fourteen East Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs were remanded in custody today in connection with last Friday’s bombing of the Supersol supermarket in West Jerusalem which took two lives. Another 91 Arabs rounded up for questioning after the blast have been released, police said. A blackout has been clamped on the progress of the investigation. Two of the Arabs retained in custody by a Jerusalem magistrate are employees of the supermarket, the largest in Jerusalem.
The notion that 500 people were picked up after the bombing, or that people were charged just because initially detained, is not supported by the facts.
Rasmea was arrested on February 28, 1969.
On March 3, 1969, just nine days after the bombing and three days after Rasmea’s arrest, JTA reported that the three key perpetrators of the SuperSol bombing — which would have included Rasmea — had confessed (emphasis added):
Jerusalem police said today that they had confessions from three suspects directly involved in planting bombs that wrecked the Supersol supermarket in West Jerusalem on Feb. 21, killing two Hebrew University students and injuring nine other persons. About 40 members of the gang responsible for the supermarket blast and subsequent bomb plantings at the British Consulate in East Jerusalem have been arrested. Today police said that all members of the gang were in custody. Police said the bombs were planted by two girls who received the explosives from a third saboteur. They were concealed in shopping bags. The crime has been reconstructed with the aid of the suspects, according to police. Round-ups in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Nablus uncovered stores of explosives and sabotage equipment amidst indications that it was to have been used shortly….
Minister of Police Eliahu Sasson was visited today by the Grand Mufti of East Jerusalem and by the heads of Christian churches who inquired about the arrested terrorists. Mr. Sasson explained the gravity of the charges against them.
Police said yesterday that all of the suspects were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the same terrorist group responsible for assaults on El Al airliners at Athens and Zurich. Police said that terrorist cells had been uncovered in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Nablus along with large quantities of explosives and weapons.
Rasmieh gave a highly detailed confession on March 1 and 7, 1969. This is inconsistent with her claim that the confessions were the result of multiple weeks of sexual torture.
Here is the translated version together with Arabic version filed in Court by prosecutors on Novemer 19, in connection with Rasmea’s Motion for Reconsideration of her post-trial bond revocation (full government filing here):
This is consistent with the Israeli military court records produced to the U.S. prosecution in the recent case pursuant to Treaty, which reference Rasmea’s first statement being on March 1, 1969:
The timeline is not consistent with the claim that Rasmea only confessed after 25 days of alleged torture. In fact, she confessed one day after arrest.
Physical Evidence Implicated Rasmea
The physical evidence gathered by the Israeli police after the SuperSol bombing implicated Rasmea, as extensive bomb-making material was found in her bedroom, as well as elsewhere in the house, that was owned by her father:
On March 1, 1969, the material was destroyed by police.
Explosives also were found in the home of Ayisha, Rasmea’s co-conspirator, who implicated Rasmea both to Israeli authorities and later in a documentary (see below):
Multiple Independent Admissions as to Rasmea’s Guilt
Put aside Rasmea’s own confessions while in Israeli custody and the wealth of evidence accumulated by the Israeli authorities. Others have come forward implicating Rasmea in the supermarket bombing. Including Rasmea herself as to the attempted British Consulate bombing, as described in the U.S. prosecution post-trial filing opposing Rasmea’s release pending sentencing:
In addition, defendant has given interviews throughout the years to various other publications in which she admitted her role. For instance, in an article published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, she stated, “I returned to the West Bank in early 1969 and was arrested on February 28 and accused of involvement in the supermarket explosion in West Jerusalem and another in the British Consulate. We had placed a bomb there to protest Britain’s decision to furnish arms to Israel. Actually we placed two bombs, the first was found before it went off so we placed another.” See http://www.palestine-studies.org/sites/default/files/uploads/files/Prisoners%20for%20Palestine-%20A%20List%20of%20Women%20Political%20Prisoners.pdf, at 45. And finally, defendant’s testimony at the instant trial, in which she claimed one of the two sisters who was arrested with her in Israel died in custody is also false. See id. at 49 (stating that her father and paralyzed sister were released after 18 days, and her other sister was released after a year and a half).
Here are images of the quoted section of the book:
At the Israeli trial, one of the co-conspirators, 17 year old Samieh Ali Ibrahim Almuyal, admitted that Rasmea got him involved in the bombing plot, as reported by the Jerusalem Post on Jan 23, 1970 (h/t @nuritbaytch)(full article embedded later in this post):
“Rasmeah Odeh was more involved than I was [in the grocery store bombing] … I only got involved during the preparation of explosives. We wanted to place two bombs to blow up consecutively. I suggested to have the second bomb go off five or six minutes after the first bomb so that those who get killed in it would be members of the army and secret service, but it did not explode. They diffused it 20 seconds before it exploded.” [Transcription via Elder of Ziyon]
Here are the key screen shots from the video:
The co-conspirator Ayisha also admitted involvement at the time she confessed (which she claimed was after torture).
The story she told the Israeli police in 1969 was consistent with the story she told in 2004, and in fact weapons and explosives were found in both Rasmea’s and Ayisha’s homes (see police reports earlier in this post):
The co-conspirator Ayisha making these admissions years after prison release is the same woman pictured in the 1970 Jerusalem Post article about the trial verdict next to Rasmea and their lawyer (as pointed out at the Investigative Project website).
A full copy of Jerusalem Post article is embedded later in this post.
Rasmea Received A Fair Trial and Defense in Israel
A consistent theme in the pro-Rasmea campaign is that Rasmea was not permitted to defend herself in the Israel military court trial. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The record produced by Israel pursuant to Treaty reflects extensive pretrial and trial proceedings.
While only a limited amount of these documents have been made public by the prosecution or defense in the Detroit case (as part of Court motion filings), it reads like a docket you might expect in a U.S. Court, although some of the procedures, like a “trial within a trial,” are not a domestic procedure. (The “trial within a trial” was as to admissibility of confessions.)
Although extensive proceedings do not guarantee fairness, independent evidence demonstrates that the trial was fair.
Here is the full Jerusalem Post report on the trial (reprinted with permission):
There are several key portions of the trial report.
First, the issue of alleged torture of all suspects was extensively addressed by the military court, leading the trial to stretch out over 6 months, before the allegation was rejected:
This is consistent with the court docket, which reflected that Israel presented witness testimony disputing the torture allegations.
Again, only some of the details of that Israeli rebuttal testimony on the issue of torture are among the documents obtained. We have Rasmea’s full account, but only a partial account of the rebuttal:
There is no way to judge credibility from these partial records of events that took place 45 years ago. The key point is that the torture allegation was disputed by witnesses at the time, and subject to defense by Rasmea’s lawyer.
This all would have taken place while being observed by a representative of the International Red Cross, who indicated in the Jerusalem Post article that the trial was fair.
Rasmea also was found to be the mastermind, which is consistent with Ayisha’s 2004 video testimony:
After voluminous documentary evidence and testimony, Rasmea was found guilty, as this portion of the verdict (the only portion made public by the prosecutors and defense in the Detroit case) reflects:
Note that the recital in this portion of the verdict is completely consistent with the 2004 video account by Ayisha and evidence independent Rasmea’s confessions.
An observer from the International Red Cross also attended the trial, and declared that the trial was fair:
While the claim is made that this was a mere “kangaroo court,” in fact the court found one of the defendants not guilty of one of the charges:
In June 1975, Rasmea briefly escaped from prison.
On March 14, 1979, Rasmea and 75 other prisoners in Israeli jails were exchanged for one Israeli soldier captured in Lebanon.
2014: Rasmea Guilty of Immigration Fraud
In 1994, Rasmea applied for a visa to the United States. Rasmea falsely answered questions related to prior arrests, convictions and prison service (yellow highlighting added):
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When Rasmea applied for naturalization (after changing her name) to become a U.S. Citizen in 2004, she again falsely answered key questions (yellow highlighting added):
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The Detroit federal trial was simple and the guilty verdict for immigration fraud inevitable given the facts.
Rasmea undeniably had been convicted in Israel in 1970 for the bombing of the SuperSol supermarket in Jerusalem. Rasmea also was convicted in connection with a failed bombing at the British Consulate that same day.
Rasmea was sentenced to life in prison after a trial in a military court, served ten years, then had her sentence commuted.
Rasmea’s conviction and prison incarceration are facts. Those facts, however, were not disclosed by Rasmea on her 1994 Visa Application and 2004 Naturalization Application, despite questions clearly calling for such information.
Those false answers formed the basis for the Indictment of Rasmea and subsequent trial in federal court, which commenced on November 4.
At the trial, Rasmea claimed that she didn’t understand the word “EVER” (all caps in original) and thought it meant only convictions and imprisonment since Rasmea came to the United States. The prosecution, and apparently the jury too, scoffed at the suggestion that “ever” doesn’t mean “ever.”
The prosecution used the analogy in closing argument about a woman asking her husband-to-be if he “ever” had been married, and the husband answering “no” even though he had been married in a foreign country before coming to the United States. It was a ridiculous defense, and rightly rejected.
It is no surprise that the Detroit jury took only 2 hours of deliberation to find Rasmea guilty. Rasmea lied. Those lies were in writing. It was as close to a 2 plus 2 equals 4 case as you can get.
Rasmea was defiant after the verdict.
Sentencing is in March, 2015.
Rasmea faces up to 10 years in prison (although far less than that is likely) and then deportation.
Jury Nullification Trial Tactic Fails
The “Free Rasmea” campaign, which started months before the trial, reflects the narrative. As previously written, twice Judge Gershwin A. Drain had to issue orders protecting jurors from interference from protesters, at least one of whom expressed a desire to influence the jury.
Rasmea’s trial strategy reflected these tactics.
Initially, Rasmea tried to Jew-bait Judge Paul Borman, originally assigned to the case, into recusing himself because of his close ties to the Jewish community.
Judge Borman initially rejected the attempt, which would have been akin to asking a black judge to recuse himself or herself in a case involving a black party.
Judge Borman wrote, in part:
… Defendant concludes that I must recuse myself from this case because my lifelong support of, and my fund raising efforts on behalf of, the Detroit Jewish Federation, a local social service organization which distributes some of its funds to provide social services in Israel and other international Jewish communities, necessarily predispose the Court against this Defendant. Further, with not a shred of factual support, Defendant makes the startling claim that in the course of trips to Israel the Court necessarily has become personally privy to “extra-judicial information about the issues of torture and the operations of the military courts raised by Defendant in this case.” ….
Defendant claims not to challenge my “charitable work on behalf of Jewish people” or my “trips to Israel as a tourist.” Yet this is the principal basis of the factual allegations relied upon in questioning my ability to judge this case impartially.1 Defendant misrepresents the nature of my actual work. Based upon statements contained in a biography created in connection with my receipt from the Detroit Jewish Federation of an Award for my work on behalf of the Jewish Federation, Defendant leaps to the conclusion that I have inside information regarding the “Israeli military legal system in the Occupied West Bank,” that will affect my ability to be impartial in this case. Not a single piece of factual evidence is offered to support this baseless assertions.
[Footnote 1] Defendant, even after the Government Response clarifying that I am not the Paul Borman that is married to Marlene Borman, yesterday filed supplemental documents containing tax information related to my cousin’s family. Those documents, and more specifically my cousin’s charitable giving, have nothing at all to do with me.
… Defendant offers not a shred of evidence, nor even a factual assertion to support the suggestion, that I was made “privy to extra-judicial information” about the subject matter of this trial. Defendant states that “[a]s a respected jurist, it is logical that [I] must have made inquiries of Israeli officials about the persistent complaints of torture and illegality of the Occupation and the military court system,” and that it is “more than likely” that I received explanations from Israeli officials of an extra-judicial nature that “can only” affect my impartiality. (Mot. 4.) (Emphasis added.) These factually baseless allegations are irresponsible speculation.
Like every one of my colleagues on the bench, I have a history and a heritage, but neither interferes with my ability to administer impartial justice to Ms. Odeh or to the Government. “‘It appears to be an inescapable part of our system that judges are drawn primarily from lawyers who have participated in public and political affairs.’” Buell, 274 F.3d at 347 (quoting United States v. Alabama, 828 F.2d 1532, 1543 (11th Cir. 1987). My relationship to my faith and my heritage through my activity on behalf of the Detroit Jewish Federation, reads nothing like the innuendo and rank speculation that infects Defendant’s motion. As Judge Higginbotham first observed and as numerous courts have similarly concluded, “[t]he facts pleaded will not suffice to show the personal bias required by the statute if they go to the background and associations of the judge rather than to his appraisal of a party personally.” 388 F. Supp. at 159….
Twenty years ago nearly to the day, I swore an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and [to] do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and [to] faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me  under the Constitution and laws of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 453. I have honored this oath every day, and will continue to do so, as I preside over this case and all cases in this Court. I unequivocally express my ability and intent to decide this case solely according to law. Defendant has not provided facts that would permit a reasonable, objective person to question this Court’s impartiality. Defendant’s motion strikes at the very heart of a Federal Judge’s pledge to administer impartial justice, and does so with careless and rank speculation.
The Court concludes that disqualification is not required and the Defendant’s motion is DENIED.
Later, Judge Borman, on his own initiative, recused himself when additional documents produced in the case revealed that his family in the 1960s at the time of the bombing, had a small interest in the SuperSol supermarket chain.
Rasmea’s supporters hailed Judge Borman’s recusal at the time, but based on Judge Drain’s subsequent pre-trial and trial rulings, Rasmea’s supporters now bitterly complain about Judge Drain’s alleged unfairness and partiality.
The judge’s ruling made perfect sense. If prosecutors had to retry cases from foreign jurisdictions for every immigration fraud case based on non-disclosure of conviction and imprisonment, the applicable questions on visa and naturalization forms would lose all viability. How are U.S. prosecutors supposed to prove cases where all the witnesses are abroad involving events from years or decades earlier?
During the trial, Rasmea defied the judge and blurted out to the jury that she was tortured and was a political prisoner in Israel. Judge Drain sustained prosecution objections, but there doesn’t seem to be any other consequence for Rasmea.
The federal prosecution also is portrayed as a persecution of pro-Palestinian activists in the U.S. Even defense counsel claimed the Israeli government and “Israel Lobby” were behind it:
Fortunately, the Judge did not let Rasmea’s defense turn the courtroom into a three-ring political circus.
End of Story: “Free Rasmea Odeh” Campaign Based False Narrative of Innocence and Victimization
In the Introduction, we hinted at the nature of the victim narrative which has been built up by Rasmea’s supporters.
It’s hard to know what the truth is about Rasmea (Rasmieh) Yousef Odeh, 66, the Palestinian woman who was charged by Israel 45 years ago with conducting an act of violence against Israeli civilians.
Ironically, Odeh was charged by Israel but was never given the opportunity to defend herself. Israel routinely denies Palestinians the right to a legal defense and has incarcerated tens of thousands of Palestinians on false charges of engaging in violent acts, even though in many cases, the accused have merely expressed verbal opposition to Israel’s brutal occupation…
Israel accused Odeh with participating in the planning of a terrorist attack that took the lives of two civilians at a crowded Jerusalem supermarket on Feb. 21, 1969. She was 21 years old at the time. Responsibility for the incident was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which has a strong base of activists in Chicago.
An Israeli military court convicted Odeh and three others “for membership in an illegal organization,” (the PFLP) and as such she was accused of participating in all three bombings. Odeh’s supporters insist she was tortured by Israeli interrogators who are notorious for their brutality, and she was forced to make an admission of guilt.
Odeh’s supporters insist she was not involved in the attack and was convicted the same way all Palestinians are convicted in the Israeli court system, without justice or the right to defend themselves. Odeh has refused to discuss the incident and declined several interview requests on the issue. At the time of the attack, Israel was arresting and killing Palestinians as a part of a campaign to eliminate critics in the West Bank which it had occupied only 21 months earlier.
Similarly, an article at The Nation, by someone also covering the trial for the anti-Israeli Electronic Intifada, asked Will Rasmea Odeh Go to Prison Because of a Confession Obtained Through Torture? At The Hill, the policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, wondered Why is Obama’s DOJ prosecuting a torture victim?
Rasmea’s lawyer in the federal case, Michael Deutsch, filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury verdict declaring Rasmea’s innocence:
The Court also improperly limited the defendant from testifying in her own defense by preventing the defendant from testifying that she was tortured to coerce her confession in 1969, that she was innocent of the accusation brought by the Israeli Military Occupation legal system, and that the Israeli military legal system operated in violation of international law, Due Process and fundamental fairness.
There are many other more inflammatory accusations about Rasmea’s conviction in Israel coming from the usual known anti-Israel propagandists.
Yet what is there to support this narrative? As to innocence, the record of guilt is clear, and independent of the confessions.
As to alleged torture, we have no verifiable way of confirming or disputing Ramea’s story of multiple gang rapes, rape with a stick while suspended from the ceiling, being forced to watch another prisoner tortured to death, electric shocks to genitals, and coercion used against her father in a failed attempt to get him to rape her. We would like to think that no one would make up such a claim, and that we absolutely could trust such testimonies. But we also would like to think that someone would not plant a bomb in a supermarket with a back up device to explode when first responders arrived.
As noted above, the timing of the confession, coming just one day after arrests, casts doubt on Rasmea’s entire story, as does her denials of involvement in the bombings despite her own and others admissions after release from Israeli prison of involvement.
If Rasmea were tortured as she described, which is questionable, it was despicable and should be condemned, but that does not absolve her of killing two university students and lying on her visa and naturalization forms, all of which are independently proven without reference to the confessions.
Rasmea is now a cause, based on the false narrative of innocence and victimization for being Palestinian.
The Free Rasmea Odeh campaign is based on fiction and political polemics, not the reality of what happened at the SuperSol supermarket and Rasmea’s false answers on her immigration applications.
Perhaps the Court will show some mercy for Rasmea in sentencing in March 2015, and not sentence her to lengthy prison time prior to deportation.
If so, that will be more mercy than Rasmea showed for her bombing victims.