DETROIT (AP) — A Chicago Arab activist deceived US officials for years, getting citizenship in 2004 without disclosing that she had spent a decade in an Israeli prison for bombings that damaged the British consulate and killed two people at a supermarket, a prosecutor said at the start of the woman’s trial Wednesday.
Rasmieh Odeh answered “no” when asked if she had ever been charged, convicted or imprisoned, first when she applied in 1994 to enter the US from Jordan and then in 2004 when she sought citizenship in Detroit.
Odeh, associate director at the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, had many opportunities to come clean, especially in an interview during the citizenship process, but repeatedly lied, prosecutor Mark Jebson told jurors in federal court.
“She should have never been allowed in the United States from the beginning,” he said. “It’s a simple, straightforward case.”
Odeh, 67, doesn’t dispute her “no” answers on the forms. Defense attorney Michael Deutsch suggested she was confused, thinking the questions were about US convictions, not ones in foreign countries.
“She had come in and lived here nine years. That was the most logical interpretation,” Deutsch said in his opening remarks.
Odeh lived in the Detroit area before moving to Chicago where she’s “respected and revered” as an activist who helps new immigrants, he said.
Dozens of supporters traveled from Chicago to watch the trial, either in the courtroom or in a separate courtroom that carried a video feed. Those watching the TV screens nodded their heads and softly clapped when Deutsch asked a question or made a remark they liked.
The case has angered pro-Palestinian activists who accuse the US government of trying to silence critics of Israel.
Odeh was 22 when she was arrested for a series of bombings in Jerusalem in 1969. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison but released in 1979 in a prisoner swap between the Israeli government and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Odeh claims the Israeli military tortured her into confessing. US District Judge Gershwin Drain repeatedly told Deutsch that questioning the legitimacy of a criminal case from decades ago, especially in front of jurors, is irrelevant in the Detroit trial.
Stephen Webber, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, said he began investigating Odeh’s path to citizenship in 2010 and received many documents from Israel about her convictions.
He said he interviewed her at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in July 2013 after she returned from an overseas trip.
Odeh acknowledged her years in an Israeli prison but said “she didn’t like to talk about it,” Webber testified.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.