Justice for Rasmea Odeh

(Editors’ Note: To learn more about Rasmea Odeh’s case, listen to an engaging interview with Nadine Naber on KPFA)

by Nadine Naber
(originally published at Middle East Research and Information Project)

This past wintrasmeaodeher, I was privileged to participate in several events in Chicago organized by Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and leader of that group’s Arab Women’s Committee. The events brought together anywhere from 60-100 disenfranchised women, all recent immigrants, from nearly every Arabic-speaking country. The attendees were there to learn English, share meals and stories, and discuss personal struggles, in everything from marriage and parenting to navigating the US educational and medical industries and the US immigration system. The women also talked about fending off racism. Together, they developed solutions for their own lives.

One event I attended was a celebration of International Women’s Day, at which immigrant women performed a play that Rasmea Odeh had written. The play focused on several generations of women in an extended Arab immigrant family who grappled with gender-related struggles both in the family and in American society with recourse to their loving but often tense connections with one another. The audience was engrossed, laughing and commenting throughout the performance, perhaps because they rarely see their own life struggles thus affirmed in America. Rarely, in fact, do they see humane, nuanced representations of Arab women’s lives at all.

After the play, attendees listened to music and celebrated their own accomplishments. Several women were from countries like Yemen and Iraq and had come to the United States without knowing a word of English. They could now read and write. Odeh asked each of her students to bring something they had written in English to be read out loud. The first woman stood up and read: “I love my teacher.”

As the event went on, women spoke over and over about the affection and gratitude they felt toward Rasmea Odeh for touching and transforming their lives and making such a beautiful space possible. I then understood why scores of women were attending each class, workshop or event — even though they were under no obligation to do so and even though many had to walk by themselves through a polar vortex snowstorm (in Chicago, no less) to get there.

I could not help but recall the scenes at the Arab Women’s Committee events some months later, in May, at a historic Chicago conference in commemoration of the 1964 Freedom Summer, when civil rights icon Angela Davis insisted that every social justice activist in the US embrace solidarity with Palestine and the movement demanding that the US government drop its charges against Rasmea Odeh.

Charges? What charges? Why would the US government want to prosecute this 67-year old Palestinian-American community activist and teacher?

On October 22, 2013, also in Chicago, Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh. She was subsequently indicted on one charge of unlawful procurement of naturalization, and released the same day on a $15,000 bond. The US government accuses Odeh of failing to answer a question truthfully on her naturalization application ten years ago in 2004. She is scheduled to stand trial in a Detroit federal court starting on September 8, 2014. If convicted, she could face up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000. She may also be deported and have her US citizenship revoked after the potential prison sentence is served. From national call in-days to student protests, petitions and mobilizations to pack the courtroom, a campaign to support Odeh has gained massive support.

US officials say they are after Odeh for immigration fraud. The Department of Justice alleges that Odeh failed to disclose on her naturalization application that she had served time in Israeli jail — even though her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of 45 days of sexual and physical torture while in detention. In addition, Odeh’s 1969 conviction in Israel was determined by a court system that systematically abuses Palestinians’ due process rights and convicts Palestinians at a rate of 99.74 percent. The Israeli military justice system that is applied to occupied Palestinians, in fact, has itself been found to be in immense violation of international law — from the lack of protections against torture and rape while in custody to the simple fact that virtually no Palestinian walks away free from an Israeli trial. The Israeli state also unlawfully imprisoned and tortured Odeh’s family and destroyed her family home soon after her arrest.

Odeh’s release from Israeli jail was followed by exile to Jordan and immigration to the US. Living in Michigan and Chicago since 1994, she has worked at the Arab American Action Network since the mid-2000s and led the Arab Women’s Committee, one of the most successful empowerment programs for Arab immigrant women living in poverty. For this service, Odeh received the Mosaic Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Chicago Cultural Alliance. Thanks to her leadership, the Arab Women’s Committee now has a base of nearly 600 Arab immigrant women and does much more than the typical social service program. Women may obtain language training and other services, but they also come to find emotional support, genuine human interaction, artistic and writing activities, political discussion and debate, and a level of solidarity otherwise absent from their lives.

The question remains: Why is Rasmea Odeh being prosecuted, and why now, for an alleged infraction that is a full decade old? Analysts connect her arrest with many previous US government campaigns against Palestinian-American activists and their supporters. Under the Nixon administration, there was Operation Boulder. The case of the Los Angeles Eight outlasted three (and almost four) presidents before it was finally set aside. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, there has been increased spying, profiling and infiltration of Arab and Muslim communities and there have been prosecutions for sending charitable aid to Palestinians, as in the case of theHoly Land Five.

In all of these cases, as in Odeh’s, what the US government considers suspect is connected to what Palestinian-Americans and their supporters are permitted to say about Israel — and to Israel’s own systems of militarism, surveillance, repression and incarceration. There may also be a connection between Odeh’s indictment and the 2010 FBI raids targeting 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists in the Midwest. And Palestine Solidarity Legal Support responded to more than 100 more incidents in 2013 alone. These incidents involve not only extra government scrutiny but also all sorts of intimidation and bullying. The Odeh indictment may also be related to the US government’s Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, which delays and denies naturalization applications of members of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, solely on the basis of religion, ethnicity and/or national origin.

But again, why Rasmea Odeh, and why now? Why now, when so many Arab immigrant women in Chicago are celebrating their personal successes in America partly due to Odeh’s remarkable leadership? Why now, when the Palestinian struggle, typified by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is growing faster than ever before in Chicago and across the US?

We may never really know why, but this much is clear: The federal government is using immigration infractions as a political tool to target Rasmea Odeh with criminal charges. The circumstances of her case are especially aggravating: 1) Israel tortures and sexually assaults Palestinians like Odeh as a means of facilitating the colonization of Palestinian land; 2) the US is complicit going back decades in Israeli war crimes and violations of international law; and 3) the US is now excavating the naturalization papers of a 67-year old survivor of sexual torture in order to brand her as a criminal.

These circumstances are why the streets of Detroit will be filled and the courtroom packed on September 8. From now until then, the collective voice of those whose lives Rasmea has touched, and the growing number of others who support her, will continue to demand: Drop the charges now!

For more information on this case and how to support Rasmea Odeh, see here and here.

Statement in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza and with seekers of freedom and justice world-wide

[A boycott how-to is below this powerful statement. -Eds.]

Statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza and with seekers of freedom and justice world-wide

As Palestinian, indigenous, women of color, anti-racist, and Jewish feminists involved in a range of social justice struggles, we strongly condemn the current massacre of the Palestinians of Gaza and affirm our support for and commitment to the growing international movement for a free Palestine and for racial justice, equality, and freedom for all.

As many of us know from time spent in Palestine and in other movements for justice, the connections between the movement for a free Palestine and anti-colonial struggles for self-determination throughout the world are inextricable.

The current Israeli attacks on Gaza have resulted in more than 1900 Palestinian deaths, including over 450 children; the displacement of up to 25% of the population; and the destruction of crucial infrastructure such as sanitation, hospitals, and schools.  We condemn and are horrified by the current acts of Israeli brutality, while also recognizing the deeply rooted and ongoing violence that Palestinians are forced to endure on a daily basis — for example, living in ghetto-like conditions in Gaza, systematically having land confiscated, being deprived of their livelihoods, collective punishment, gender and racial violence, and ongoing expulsion and displacement from the Nakba until today.

An extensive prison system bolsters the occupation and suppresses resistance.  Over 5,000 Palestinians are locked inside Israeli prisons; more than 200 are children.  There is ongoing criminalization of their political activity.

We believe in the critical importance, now more than ever, of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions call for Israel to 1) End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the Wall; 2) Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
 3) Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. The purpose of the BDS campaigns is to pressure Israeli state-sponsored institutions to adhere to international law, basic human rights, and democratic principles as a condition for just and equitable social relations.

We stand with the Palestinian community and with activists all over the world in condemning the flagrant injustices of the current Israeli massacre against the Palestinians of Gaza; the land, air, and sea blockade of Gaza; and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

We call for an end to US military aid, at more than 3 billion a year, for the Israeli state and its occupation.

We call upon all people of conscience to stand with Palestine and to join the worldwide actions in which communities and civil society are stepping up in critical ways. We recognize that all our struggles for social, racial, gender, and economic justice and for self-determination are deeply interconnected and can only gain strength and power from one another. As Audre Lorde taught us, “When we can arm ourselves with the strength and vision from all our diverse communities then we will in truth all be free at last.”

Signatories:

Ujju Aggarwal, INCITE!; New School for Social Research

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, San Francisco State University

Bina Ahmad, National Lawyers Guild

Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley

Linda Carty, Syracuse University

Ayoka Chenzira, Artist and Filmmaker

Angela Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz

Gina Dent, University of California, Santa Cruz

Zillah Eisenstein, Anti-Racist Feminist Scholar, Activist, Writer

Eve Ensler, Writer, Activist, Founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising

G. Melissa Garcia, Dickinson College

Anna Guevarra, University of Illinois at Chicago

Lisa Kahaleole Hall, Wells College

bell hooks, Feminist critic and writer

Suad Joseph, University of California, Davis

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University

Nada Khader, WESPAC Foundation

Mona Khalidi, Columbia University

Reem Khamis-Dakwar, Adelphi University

Nancy Kricorian, Writer

Amina Mama, University of California, Davis

Hannah Mermelstein, Adalah-NY; Librarians and Archivists with Palestine

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Syracuse University

Nadine Naber, University of Illinois, Chicago

Premilla Nadasen, Barnard College

Donna Nevel, Jews Say No!; Nakba Education Project, US

Dana Olwan, Syracuse University

Barbara Ransby, University of Illinois at Chicago

Beverly Guy Sheftall, Author, Atlanta, Georgia

Kimberly M. Tallbear, University of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Vilkomerson, Jewish Voice for Peace

Alice Walker, Writer and Activist

Editors: Here’s a list of “optimal” items to boycott to help end Israel occupation:

Food/Drink:

  • Sodastream
  • Jaffa citrus fruits
  • Golan Heights Wine
  • Sabra Hummus
  • Medjool Dates
  • Eden Springs Water
  • Dorot Garlic and Herbs, Israeli Cous Cous and Pastures of Eden Feta (found at Trader Joes)
  • Osem
  • Tribe Humus
  • Yes to Carrots
  • Sara Lee bakery items
  • Coca Cola: includes Dr Pepper, Fanta, Fruitopia, Kia Ora, Lilt, Sprite, Sunkist, Schweppes, Dasani Water, Nestea, Fresca, Tab

Clothes:

  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Sara Lee:  Hanes, Playtex, Champion, Leggs, Wonderbra
  • Naot shoes
  • Delta Galil Industries: Gap, J-Crew, J.C. Penny, Calvin Klein, Playtex, Victoria’s Secret, DIM, Donna Karan / DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Playtex, Calvin Klein (cK), Hugo Boss, Banana Republic, Structure

Makeup:

  • L’Oreal / The Body Shop
  • Estee Lauder
  • Ahava cosmetics
  • Dead Sea Cosmetics

Household:

  • Pampers
  • TEVA drugs

Technology:

  • Hewlett Packard
  • Intel
  • Motorola

Cars/Bulldozers:

  • Volvo
  • Hyundai
  • Caterpillar

(Resources: here, here, and here)

And here’s info on “Buycott,” a phone app to help do more consumer boycotting.

As the campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions writes, “The consumer boycott is beginning to bite, too: a fifth of Israeli exporters reported a drop in demand as a result of the boycott in the wake of the Gaza massacre.”

One more thing:  here are links on how to engage in academic boycott, consumer boycott, cultural boycott, and press for divestments and sanctions.

Transformative Justice and the Trayvon Martin Case: A Consideration

The fantastic Project Nia in Chicago recently organized a panel that considered radical alternative responses to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin that do not rely on prisons and policing.  We’ve embedded the audio from the panel above and the description of the panel is below.  Beth Richie, panelist and co-founder of INCITE!, references the 2001 INCITE!/Critical Resistance Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex as an important tool for imagining and developing organizing strategies to address violence.  For more info about that statement, visit this webpage.

Transformative Justice and the Trayvon Martin Case: A Consideration:

After the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year old Trayvon Martin, some are asking what “justice” would look like for Trayvon. The conversation about whether the criminal legal system is the ‘best’ way to seek accountability for harm has been ongoing for several years. It continues in the wake of this trial. Some outstanding questions include:
1. What would transformative justice look like in this case?
2. How do prison abolitionists respond to the George Zimmerman trial?

Panelists include Erica Meiners, Beth Richie, Traci Schlesinger, and was moderated by Mariame Kaba.  More about the panelists here.

“Childbirth in Palestine” infographic

Birmingham City University Palestine Society released the infographic below entitled, “Childbirth in Palestine.”  They note, “this particular Info-graphic shows how difficult it is for a woman in Westbank, Palestine  to travel to the hospital in time to give birth due to the 500+ Israeli checkpoints.”  For more details about this crisis, visit this article discussing recent studies that document the profound impact of  the Israeli bombing raids on Gaza in early 2009 and the on-going violence of Israeli checkpoints on the experience of childbirth in Palestine.

Infographic by Birmingham City University Palestine Society

Infographic by Birmingham City University Palestine Society

BCU Palestine Society also offered the following links to download printable sizes of the infographic:
A4 Size Download
A5 Size Download

Visit INCITE!’s statement on endorsing the Palestinian call for BDS—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions for Palestine.

Mamas of Color Rising: Urgent Public Hearing in Austin, Aug 28th!

Mamas of Color Rising

A message from Mamas of Color Rising:

Mamas want You!

After two years of pushing for change in Texas Medicaid, Mamas of Color Rising (MOCR) in collaboration with others, is on the verge of winning a major victory for Women of Color and poor women in Texas. If we are successful, pregnant women on Medicaid will now have the option to choose a Midwife and deliver at a birth center as opposed to the OB/GYN and the hospital as their only choice. This choice allows women to receive more personalized and holistic care, longer and more comprehensive appointments, as well as shorter waiting times prior to appointments. This is in contrast to the more prevalent 5 minute prenatal checks and three hour waiting times in clinic lobbies and waiting rooms. These more “healthy” and ideal scenarios are choices  that the wealthy  and privately insured are currently demanding.

For women of color, this victory will represent much more than a “healthy” choice. According to Amnesty International, in the U.S. African American women are four times more likely to die of pregnancy related complications than white women, and Latina women are 2.5 times as likely as white women to receive late or no prenatal care. The outcomes in Texas are actually worse than these national averages. Research shows that access to the midwifery model of care can tangibly improve these outcomes.

MOCR has never asked broader friends, supporters and allies to come out for an action before. As busy mothers ourselves, we only ask when its absolutely needed. BUT today we are asking!

Come out next Tuesday August 28th to the public hearing at the Health and Human Services Braker Center,  located at 11209 Metric Boulevard, Building H, Austin, Texas. The hearing will be held in the Lone Star Conference Room from 9am-11am.

Wear one of our stickers and represent the fight for equal access to healthier birth choices for ALL women!
Support our mamas members testimonies!

Call or text 254-421-4059, if u have any logistical questions the day of.
If you are interested in providing a testimony as well please feel free to email us at mamasofcolorrising@gmail.com.

WHY SHOULD YOU BE THERE??

Not a mama? Don’t have kids? Don’t even want kids?

This issue affects us ALL. For all folks committed to racial and economic justice, next Tuesday’s Medicaid ruling is critical!

For Mamas of Color Rising the right for women on Medicaid to choose their type of birth provider directly addresses the larger social issues that we are working on such as:

* The current HEALTHCARE APARTHEID we are living in this country which particularly affects African-American and Latino immigrant communities.
* The WOMB TO PRISON PIPELINE- that according to MOCR begins earlier than school, since discrimination, policing and tracking actually begin in the womb.
* And finally, a JUST and LOVING world is one world where all mothers and babies receive attentive quality loving care.

It’s THAT simple.

We will see you at the hearing!

In Solidarity,
Mamas of Color Rising Collective Members

The Gendered Violence of Stop-and-Frisk

Though racist stop-and-frisk policies have been framed as primarily police violence against men of color (black and Latino men account for 40% of the stops from last year), women and transgender people are also subject to the violence of police frisks on the street.  The New York Times recently profiled several women who have experienced stop-and-frisk in order to “increase safety:”

Crystal Pope, 22, said she and two female friends were frisked by male officers last year in Harlem Heights. The officers said they were looking for a rapist. It was an early spring evening at about 6:30 p.m. The three women sat talking on a bench near Ms. Pope’s home on 143rd Street when the officers pulled up and asked for identification, she said.

“They tapped around the waistline of my jeans,” Ms. Pope said. “They tapped the back pockets of my jeans, around my buttock. It was kind of disrespectful and degrading. It was uncalled-for. It made no sense. How are you going to stop three females when you are supposedly looking for a male rapist?”

Wild Gender reports that LGBT people, specifically trans women of color, are targeted by police stop-and-frisk at very high rates:

“When (transgender people) are stopped and frisked, they usually suffer physical violence, verbal harassment, often times a groping of their genitals,” said Karina Claudio, an organizer with Make the Road New York, to NY1.

“They just like, ‘are you man or woman?’” said Nicole Teyuca, who spoke out against the  policy. “And I’m like ‘what do you want me to be?’ In that moment, they just got out of the car, put me against the wall and they tell me you are under arrest.”

In the NYT article, Andrea Ritchie, co-coordinator of Streetwise and Safe and member of INCITE!, highlighted how stop-and-frisk is a form of state-enforced sexual violence:

“Every training we go to, we hear complaints about stop-and-frisk, and we hear women talk about sexual harassment,” Ms. Ritchie said. “They say, ‘Isn’t it right that a male officer can’t frisk you?’ ”

Ms. Ritchie said she believed the confusion spoke to the type of police stops unfolding daily on the streets, especially in cases where officers might have violated constitutional boundaries.

If a woman believes there is no legal basis for the frisk, Ms. Ritchie said, then she may feel that she is being groped simply for the officer’s sexual gratification. “That’s how women have described it to me,” Ms. Ritchie added.

Check out this fact sheet from Think Progress to learn more about stop-and-frisk practices.  Here is audio testimony from Nicole Teyuca about her experience of being profiled, stopped, frisked,and harassed by police, and a discussion about organizing strategies from Make the Road New York and their partners.  (More info can be found at a news article at OutFM.)  And here’s a news article with a slide show of the June 17th silent protest against stop-and-frisk in NYC, which drew thousands. *Updated to add this great article, “From Stonewall to Stop and Frisk,” by Chris Bilal, a youth leader at Streetwise and Safe.

For more information and resources about ongoing law enforcement violence against women of color and trans people of color, check out the Stop Law Enforcement Violence Toolkit.  It includes info about about military and ICE violence, policing gender and sexuality, police violence in schools, against people in the sex industry, and in the context of colonial violence, domestic and sexual violence, so-called neighborhood “improvement,” and environmental disaster.  There are also helpful organizing resources developed by grassroots groups included in the toolkit.

Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation

Black feminist anti-violence activist, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and INCITE! co-founder, Beth E. Richie, released a powerful new book entitled Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.

Girl Talk will host a discussion with Beth on Thursday, June 21st from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m at Depaul University Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave, Room 324, Chicago, IL.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Beth at Salon.com about  the relationship between dominant anti-domestic/sexual violence efforts and the “prison nation.”

You describe the U.S. as a “prison nation.” What do you mean by that?

The prison nation, which is a broader concept than the prison industrial complex, for me represents the combination of both incarceration in the literal sense – an influx of people into the criminal legal system in all of its apparatus: jails, prisons, detention centers, etc. … [It is an] increase in arrest and removal of people from their communities into facilities, but it also represents the ideological shift and policy changes that use criminalization and punishment as a response to a whole range of social problems. Not just crime, but also things like policing people who are on welfare, using the child protective services system to control families, the ways that schools have become militarized. So it’s a broad notion of using the arm of the law to control people, especially people who are disadvantaged and come from disadvantaged communities.

How does this affect violence against black women?

It’s kind of an interesting parallel and a convolution of things. Anti-violence work has been going on in this country for years and years, and many people see the early 1990s as the time when there were big shifts in public consciousness about the problem of violence against women, as well as changes in policies that really took the crime of violence against women – domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, etc. – more seriously. So there were new laws, there were more sanctions, police were trained, domestic violence courts were opened up – there were a lot of policy changes that made the problem of violence against women a crime. And a lot of that harsh sanctioning of violence against women really grew out of, not feminist organizing to end the problem of violence against women, but a parallel criminalization of everything. The Violence Against Women Act really lined up right against the other crime bills that were passed primarily in the mid-1990s. So on the one hand, this is good news for anti-violence activists, in terms of criminalizing violence against women. But on the other hand, these crimes disproportionately impacted black communities, and so it was kind of a mixed result for African-American people. It created a schism, especially for African-American women, but also I think for African-American families and communities more generally, because we were taking position against mass incarceration at the same time that mass incarceration was being used as a tool to respond to the crime of violence against women.

This is an interesting development given the “everywoman” emphasis of the ’60s feminist anti-violence movement — which argued that all women, regardless of race and class, were vulnerable to domestic violence. 

Yes. We began doing training to try to raise public consciousness and make public the private care of domestic and sexual violence, in particular, by saying: This is not an isolated problem, it can happen to any women; it’s not just an issue for poor families or families of color. So — regardless of your religion, your race or ethnicity, your income, what region of the country you live in, what age you were … it didn’t matter what you wore, it didn’t matter if you didn’t cook well – there was nothing demographically or behaviorally that would protect women from male violence. We used that as a kind of anchor to our analysis: It can happen to any woman. And I think we were successful, at least initially, in making sure that it wasn’t another stigmatizing problem that was associated with other social problems of poverty and racism, etc. And people heard us. There was an increase in general public consciousness, and in particular, there was an increase in attention to the problem of violence against women by power elites – by executive decision-makers at corporations, elected officials, presidents of universities.

And when power elites started paying attention to it, they took seriously what could happen to women in their social context and started designing services for and passing laws that would protect women in their social context. So it became ultimately paradoxically kind of a narrowing of an understanding of the problem. That white middle-class or wealthy heterosexual married women or women on elite college campuses were at risk of violence against women and the attention, the resources, the analysis, went toward protecting those women at the expense of women who didn’t fall into those more normative categories. So it became hard to understand how a prostitute could be raped, for example. Or how a woman who is a substance abuser could be battered in her household. It became a sense of victimization tied to a sympathetic image of who could be hurt and how terrible it was that those women were hurt, as opposed to the real everywoman that we were trying to argue for.

You can find the full interview here.