Category Archives: Nakba

Odeh Not Given Full and Fair Trial, Found Guilty in Jury Verdict

By Becca Hanna

Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh was found guilty this morning of “Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization” stemming from questions she answered on immigration documents a decade ago.rasmea_0

Odeh, a 67 year old community organizer with Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, was arrested in her home on October 22, 2013 by Department of Homeland Security agents. She was charged with omitting information about a prior conviction on her naturalization documents.

That conviction was a 1969 decision by an Israeli Military Court indicting Odeh for alleged involvment with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), accusing her of direct involvement in a bombing of the British Consulate in Jerusalem.

Odeh was arrested in a 1969 and jailed in an Israeli prison where she was brutally tortured and abused until she finally confessed to the bombings. At trial, Odeh immediately recanted her confession given under torture, but was sentenced to life in prison by the all military court.

Odeh served 10 years before her sentence was commuted in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP. Odeh eventually made her way to Jordan where she became a lawyer, then came to the United States in 1994 to care for her ailing father.

Odeh has lived and worked in the United States since then, committing herself particularly to organizing Arab-American women in the greater Chicago area. Odeh has widely been recognized as an exemplary community leader, even garnering praise for the Chicago Cultural Alliance as such in 2013.

Odeh with Ali Abunimah shortly before the verdict was announced today.

Odeh with Ali Abunimah shortly before the verdict was announced today.

Censorship in Pre-trial Motions

The arrest and subsequent trial of Rasmea Odeh has been legally questionable from the start. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression among others, argue that the discrepancy on the naturalization application was purposefully sought out in an effort to jail activist by any means necessary,

Odeh is a member of a prominent Arab-American community which garnered national attention after a 2010 FBI raid on 14 activist’s homes. Though none of those subpoenad activists have yet been jailed, Stopfbi.net called the raids and subsequent grand jury indictments a “witch hunt” for pro-Arab activists.

The injustices, for Odeh, did not stop there.

Early on in her trial process, Odeh met many barriers to a full and fair trail, starting with inadequate representation, and ending with censorship of her own testimony.

In a criticized evedentiary hearing, Eastern Michigan District Judge Gershwin Drain ruled that evidence that Odeh was tortured in Israeli custody and forced into a confession was inadmissable . Though Justice Drain said the court was “sympathetic” to the story of Odeh’s torture and admitted that there is truth in her accusation of torture, he claimed that the torture had already been tried in 1969 and he was not looking to “rehash” the previous trial.

Rasmea’s lawyers intended to use her admission under torture, immediate recantation and subsequent diagnosis of PTSD to build a case for the omission of the conviction being due to Odeh’s intense trauma surrounding the confession.

In his ruling, Justice Drain also alluded to a 1998 treaty between the United States and Israel ”on mutual assistance in criminal matters.”

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This treaty effectively binds the United States to honor any decisions made by the Israeli courts, and promises legal assistance in prosecuting anyone that the Israeli Government sees fit to prosecute.

This treaty was the ultimate reason for Judge Drain’s refusal to allow Odeh’s testimony: a pact with the Israeli Government.

Odeh’s defense also tried to get the court to throw out the trial on the grounds that the information gathered about Odeh was gathered from illegal investigation into the Arab American Action Network’s activities, and was a politcally motivated attempt to abuse the criminal justice system to jail activists doing politicized work. The court sided with the prosecution on this motion as well, denying it outright.

While Odeh did win a small victory with a motion to exlude the battery of charges brought against Odeh by the Israeli courts in favor of focusing on just the bombing indictment, the defense’s entire case was gutted by the evidentiary ruling barring the torture allegations. The jurors for the case would not be able to hear anything about how the confession was obtained by the Israeli Military. Further, the judge granted the prosecution’s motion for a jury sequester, assuring that the jurors would not see any signs of protest outside of the courthouse by picking them up from an unspecified location and bringing them in a different entrance. Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.39.07 PM

The Trial

At trial, the prosecution worked to paint Odeh as a convicted and dangerous terrorist who omitted information about her previous arrests to unlawfully gain access to the United States and further her political agenda.

Putting Odeh’s story into context, defense attorney Michael Deutsch used his opening statements to tell the story of Rasmea’s family’s loss of their home and land in 1948 and the indiscriminant sweep of arrests in 1969 that put Odeh in jail where she would eventually be “interrogated for weeks.” Deutsch spoke of the Nakbah and Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land, telling the jury that Odeh “embodies the history of the Palestinian People.”

During the trial, the defense was able to show that Odeh was questioned in 2010 by a Homeland Security Officer who lied about his interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to get Odeh to talk about her recent trip to Palestine. Deutsch showed that the original immigration documentation was never signed by Odeh, that the immigration official who went through the naturalization questions with Rasmea in 2004 never asked Odeh about the questions involving previous convictions, and that the paperwork itself is confusing — asking questions meant about convictions in the U.S. and abroad after asking a series of U.S. focused questions.

When Odeh finally took the stand herself on Thursday, she bravely told the story of her life, hinting at, but omitting the torture she endured in Israeli prison at the threat of being held in contempt by the Judge. “It’s my life,” she told the judge, “I have a right to talk about the things that happened to me!”

The prosecution vigerously cross-examined Odeh, trying to trap her into misspeaking, but she stayed strong, asserting her innocence and giving careful explanations about her conduct.

The trial ended on Friday with the jury taking 15 minutes for deliberation before adjourning for the weekend.

This morning, after less than 2 hours of deliberation the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict, likely sending Odeh to jail and putting her citizenship in danger. Judge Drain, in a rare move, praised the jury for their decision.

After the ruling, in usual Rasmea Odeh form, the activist addressed her supporters outside of the Detroit Couthouse saying, “Someday we’ll find fairness, some place in the world. If we didn’t get justice now, we will get it later.”

Odeh is set to appear before the judge for sentencing at 2PM CST.

The Nakba in the New Yorker

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Refugees from Lydda, 1948

The publication of Avi Shavit’s “Lydda, 1948: A city, a massacre and the Middle East Today” in The New Yorker, October 21, 2013, is a welcome chink in the wall of silence around the Nakba, the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state. That’s a very good thing, regardless of what one thinks of Shavit’s conclusions.

For decades, the subject was declared off-limits, even for a former Israeli prime minister who wanted to talk about brutalities he’d witnessed himself. As David Shipler reported in the New York Times in 1979, in “Israel Bars Rabin From Relating ’48 Eviction of Arabs,” a “censorship board composed of five Cabinet members prohibited former Prime Minister Rabin from including in his memoirs a first-person account of the expulsion of 50,000 Palestinian civilians from their homes” in Ramle and Lydda (Lod) during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. (Rabin attributed the expulsion orders to David Ben Gurion.)

But thanks to the research  in the late 1980s of the New Historians ( Benny Morris’sThe Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem1947-1949; Simha Flapan’s The Birth of Israel; Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, among others) and, more recently, the work of  Zochrot, the events of 1947-1949 have been discussed and angrily disputed within Israel, despite the efforts of a variety of right-wing organizations to prevent such discourse and of Israeli legislationto penalize commemoration of the Nakba (American Jews on the other hand have been more successful in stifling discussion, at least until now.)

In vivid, excruciating, undeniable, documented detail, Shavit’s New Yorker article describesboth the massacre of hundreds and the expulsion of 35,000 residents of Lydda.  And with astonishing bluntness, Shavit states:

“Lydda is the black box of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear the Arab city of Lydda. From the very beginning, there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to exist, Lydda could not exist.  If Lydda was to exist, Zionism could not exist. In retrospect it’s all too clear.”

But then, like Benny Morris before him, Shavit concludes with the sentiment — if not the slogan — so often expressed by defenders of Zionism: eyn breira: There’s no choice.

“Do I wash my hands of Zionism? Do I turn my back on the Jewish national movement that carried out the destruction of Lydda? No. Like the brigade commander, I am faced with something too immense to deal with.  Like the military governor, I see a reality I cannot contain. When one opens the black box, one understands that, whereas the massacre at the mosque could have been triggered by a misunderstanding brought about by a tragic chain of accidental events, the conquest of Lydda and the expulsion of Lydda’s population were no accident. Those events were a crucial phase of the Zionist revolution, and they laid the foundation for the Jewish state. Lydda is an integral and essential part of the story. And, when I try to be honest about it, I see that the choice is stark: either reject Zionism because of Lydda or accept Zionsim along with Lydda.
Put that way, it’s no wonder Shavit concludes despairing of the future:
“But, looking straight ahead at Lydda, I wonder if peace is possible.  Our side is clear: we had to come into the Lydda Valley and we had to take the Lydda Valley.  There is no other home for us, and there was no other way.  But the Arab’s side, the Palestinian side, is equally clear; they cannot forget Lydda and they cannot forgive us for Lydda.  You can argue that it is not the occupation of 1967 that is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but the tragedy of 1948, It’s  not only the settlements that are an obstacle to peace but the Palestinians’ yearning to return, one way or another, to Lydda and to dozens of other towns and villages that vanished during one cataclysmic year.  But the Jewish State cannot let them return. Israel has a right to live, and if Israel is to live it cannot resolve the Lydda issue. What is needed to make peace now between the two peoples of this land may prove more than humans can summon.”
It’s a startling admission that strangely points to where hope, if there is to be any, will be found: in Israeli recognition of the Nakba and the demand that Israelis either embrace a history as ethnic cleansers or work toward a future in which Israel becomes a democracy of all its people. There is a choice there.

 

DC’s Theater J, The Admission, and The Threat of Truth Telling

By Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

Israeli playwright Mott Lerner's play, the Admission, won't be performed as planned at Theater J.

Israeli playwright Motti Lerner. In 1994 he won the Prime Minister of Israel Award for his creative work but his play the Admission won’t be performed as planned at Theater J.

Culture is the arena through which collective memory is created and sustained, and that’s why it’s often so disputatious.  Among the most powerful of these collective memories is the Zionist narrative of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, which presents Zionist conduct as pure and always justifiable.  And that’s why the Palestinian counter-narrative of that war, the Nakba, remains so threatening,  especially when the righteousness of Zionist actions are challenged, and maybe most especially when Jewish Israelis themselves raise the challenge.

One of the most controversial of these is the claim that Israeli soldiers massacred many Palestinian civilians and expelled others before razing the Palestinian village of Tantura in late-May, 1948.  The controversy over what happened in Tantura (fictionalized as Tantur) lies at the heart of a new play by the Jewish Israeli playwright Motti Lerner called The Admission.

Washington DC’s Theater J had scheduled the play for a 34-performance, full production this spring, but came immediately under fire from an ad hoc group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA).   Claiming that the play focuses on “a vicious lie about Israel” COPMA called on “donors to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington to withdraw their funding from the Federation unless it ceased its support for the Washington DCJCC” (which supports Theater J).

The theater has now reduced the production to a 16 week “workshop” run in proposed repertory with “Golda’s Balcony.”  Golda’s Balcony, which starred Telva Feldshuh in a 2003 Broadway production, is a hagiographic tribute to Golda Meier and the Israeli state during the1973 war.

COPMA has been gunning for Theater J for some time, often attacking the works brought over in an annual series called “Voices from a Changing Middle East,” such as the Jewish Israeli playwright, Boaz Gaon’s, adaptation of Return to Haifa, from the novella by Ghassan Kanafani, which was presented at Theater J in 2011, after a successful run at Tel Aviv’s most prominent theater, the Cameri. For COPMA, these are  “theatrical productions that attack and defame Israel.” (In Washington, it was a critical and box office hit.)

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Muzzling Discussion of the Nakba and Palestinian History

By Donna Nevel
10/12/13

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

Nakba: Palestine refugees 1948

We know all too well how adamantly pro-Israel forces in the U.S. Jewish community and Israel consider certain conversations and actions critical of Israel “beyond the pale,” and how blatant their hasbara (pro-Israel propaganda) attempts are to silence and suppress them.

Although the parameters (of what is “acceptable”) may change at times, what doesn’t seem to change is how hasbara intensifies as efforts to reveal historical and current truths and demand change become more visible and powerful.

Most recently, Al Jazeera reports that right wing groups have tried to censor schoolbooks and silence organizations that make visible to the Israeli public the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe that refers to the forced dispossession and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land before, during, and after the creation of the Jewish state.

A bit of context: Some of these recent attempts at muzzling come as Zochrot, an Israeli organization, was planning (and recently held) a monumental conference, “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of the Palestinian Refugees.” The conference had as its focus “the implication of Return for the country’s physical, cultural and economic space, on the nature of its future society, the status of Palestinians and Jews living here, the nature of its regime, and last but not least, the practicalities of returning property after 65 years of refugeehood and the destruction of Palestinian life on the one hand, and the establishment of a Jewish State and the resulting new reality on the other.”  This conference aligned with Zochrot’s ongoing commitment to “challenge the Israeli Jewish public’s preconceptions and promote awareness, political and cultural change within it to create the conditions for the Return of Palestinian Refugees and a shared life in this country.”  

Some of those engaged in the nastiest tactics are extreme right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu or NGO Monitor, which are both closely connected to the Israeli government. Recently, in response to an NGO Monitor report attacking it, the U.S. group, Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote: “NGO Monitor has a long history, broadly documented, of attacking any organization that it believes is effectively criticizing Israeli policies. The organizations NGO Monitor has attacked include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Al Haq, and the New Israel Fund, to name just a few. We are honored to be among them.”

But we also know that attempts to erase the Nakba have been standard policy and practice since the creation of the State, and they have been undertaken by people and groups across the political spectrum.  (More about this in a follow-up piece.)

Although the opposition may step up its tactics–of censoring; spying on organizations; prohibiting groups from even referring to the Nakba; shutting down funding; intimidating justice workers–that won’t change the fact that the history, the stories, the evidence, the documentation about the Nakba are indisputable.

Zochrot is having a truth commission for the events of 1948, to be held in March 2014,  “that will seek to collect and document information about the 1948 events, focusing in particular on the actions that led to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. By exposing the public to this information, the event will seek to encourage various audiences in Israel to acknowledge these actions and take personal and collective responsibility for them.” This critical work continues.

I am not afraid of people discussing the Nakba. I am afraid of people not being allowed to discuss it.

In the “credit where credit is due” department, I was very impressed by Hagai El- Ad, who was representing the Association of Civil Rights in Israel on the J Street Conference panel about the New Israel Fund. He provided what I believe was the only mention of the Nakba [Catastrophe] at the J Street conference, in the context of the Nakba Law, which he opposed in powerful, articulate language. This law, covered here on Muzzlewatch, was originally intended to criminalize with up to three years in prison anyone who dared commemorate the Nakba. The new version was ‘softened’ to bar the Israeli government from providing funding to activities that deny Israel’s definition as a Jewish or democratic state — in essence sanctioning a government boycott of Nakba-related cultural and educational activities.

El Ad opposed this law not just on behalf of the 20% of Israel’s population who is Palestinian, but referred to the Nakba as part of the history of the entire country. El Ad said “I am not afraid of people discussing the Nakba. I am afraid of people not being allowed to discuss it.”

This is a reminder of the stake we all have in opposing muzzling: the threat posed to everyone by those who would suppress or even criminalize criticism. All the more reason to use the privilege we have here to raise our voices as loudly and effectively as we can.

– Jesse Bacon