Activist convicted in ’69 Israel bombing is accused of concealing background
Over the past decade, Rasmieh Yousef Odeh has made a name for herself in Chicago's Palestinian community as a peaceful social activist and staunch defender of women's rights, supporters say.
But federal authorities allege the diminutive 66-year-old Evergreen Park woman has a violent past — one that's come back to haunt her.
On Tuesday, federal agents arrested Odeh on charges she lied on immigration and citizenship papers by concealing her conviction for a deadly terrorist bombing more than 40 years ago in Israel. If convicted, Odeh would be stripped of her citizenship and face up to 10 years in prison, authorities said.
Odeh's arrest sparked outrage from some supporters, who said the government was trying to intimidate those who have stood up against an oppressive Israeli and U.S. foreign policy.
"It's an escalation of attacks on our community. ... We're very, very angry," Hatem Abudayyeh, leader of the pro-Palestine group Committee to Stop FBI Repression, said outside the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. "This is a community under siege, and now a 66-year-old woman is under siege from this federal government."
An indictment unsealed in Detroit alleged that Odeh was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine when she was arrested in the 1969 bombing that killed two people and injured several others at a crowded Jerusalem supermarket. Another bomb placed at the British Consulate caused structural damage but no injuries, according to the indictment.
Odeh was sentenced to life in prison but was released as part of a prisoner exchange after serving 10 years. Her sentence was commuted.
Odeh immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 and omitted information about her arrest and conviction when she applied for a visa, the indictment alleges. Nine years later, Odeh again concealed her criminal background when she applied for and was granted U.S. citizenship, according to the charge.
On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason released Odeh, who also goes by the name of Rasmieh Steve, on a $15,000 cash bond and ordered her to appear by Nov. 1 in federal court in Detroit.
Odeh's lawyer, James Fennerty, who has known Odeh for nearly 30 years, said she was left nearly blind from her years in solitary confinement but slowly regained her sight after her release, studied to be a lawyer and earned a master's degree. She also has been active in the Arab American Action Network, a social service agency based on Chicago's Southwest Side, he said.
William Hayes, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official in Detroit, said in a statement that lying on immigration documents is a risk to national security.
At Odeh's modest apartment building, a neighbor described her as a "very nice lady." She said Odeh had lived alone in the apartment for about six years.
In a 2004 documentary, "Women in Struggle," Odeh described in graphic detail her alleged treatment while in Israeli custody, saying she was stripped naked, beaten and humiliated.
"This increased my hatred against those who were responsible," the Jordan native said in the interview.
Odeh did not deny in the documentary that she had a role in the bombings but offered an explanation for her radicalism in her youth. Odeh indicated that she never knew her father, saying he immigrated to America after the Israeli occupation began to work and support her and her five siblings. Her mother used to tell her that her dad would come back when Palestinians gained back their homeland, she said.
"So ever since I was a child, I had associated my father's return with the return to our land," Odeh said.