Palestinian activist Rasmieh Yousef Odeh .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US Attorney’s Office in Michigan announced late Tuesday that it will seek the Palestinian Authority’s permission to depose two Palestinian women who co-conspired with a third Palestinian woman to perpetrate an infamous 1969 supermarket bombing, in efforts to deport the latter woman and debunk her defense that she only confessed to the bombing after being tortured by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
The retrial of the third woman, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, is scheduled for May 16. The US will argue that she lied and covered up her terrorist past on a US immigration form, which actions justify her deportation.
In 1970, an Israeli military court convicted Odeh of participating in a Population Front for the Liberation of Palestine bombing. The bombing killed two people – Hebrew University students and roommates Leon “Arie” Kanner, 21, from Netanya, and Edward Joffe, 22, formerly of Cape Town and living near Tel Aviv – at the SuperSol supermarket on Agron Street in Jerusalem in 1969. Odeh was sentenced to a life term.
Odeh served 10 years of that sentence, before getting an early release in 1980, in a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and the PFLP, and later immigrated to the US in 1995.
Tuesday’s motion is the first step for the US prosecution to move toward requesting that the PA give it access to depose the two co-conspirators, Aisha Odeh and Rasheda Obideh. The purpose is to prove Rasmea Odeh’s participation in the bombing, which in turn would require her deportation from the US.
In its motion, the US attorney wrote, “Aisha Odeh and Rasheda Obideh have appeared in video recordings over the years describing their roles in the bombings, as well as the defendant’s role.”
It continued, “A portion of one of those videos, ‘Women in Struggle,’ was admitted as a [US] government exhibit during the defendant’s first trial... During other portions of the video, Aisha Odeh freely admits that she placed the bomb at the supermarket. Aisha Odeh stated that Rasmea Odeh and a third individual, Rasheda Obideh, had gone and studied the location in advance.
“Aisha Odeh and Rasheda Obideh made similar statements in another video, ‘Tell Your Tale Little Bird’... Given Aisha Odeh’s and Rasheda Obideh’s personal knowledge of the defendant’s role in the bombings, the government believes” the two have uniquely relevant testimony, said the motion.
Further, the US attorney said, “However, the government believes that Aisha Odeh and Rasheda Obideh live in Palestine... and therefore cannot be compelled to attend the trial of this matter. The government therefore intends to request that the Palestinian Authority compel Aisha Odeh and Rasheda Obideh to submit to a deposition in Palestine.”
In November 2014, a Detroit federal jury convicted Rasmea Odeh of concealing her life imprisonment sentence in Israel, and in March 2015 she was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison out of a potential maximum of 10 years, the canceling of her US citizenship and deportation to Jordan.
While in the US, Odeh became a self-dubbed human rights activist, which has led other activists to support her in a concerted campaign with the slogan: “Free Rasmea, Free Palestine.”
In January 2016, the campaign for Odeh’s release said it had attracted African-American activists, such as political activist Angela Davis. Odeh’s supporters claim that her original trial in Israel was marked with “bias and inconsistencies,” and that Odeh confessed her involvement in terrorism only after she was tortured by security authorities.
In February 2016, a US appeals court threw out Odeh’s original conviction, saying that the trial court should have allowed expert testimony that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to Shin Bet torture in prison and did not know her statements to immigration officials were false.
In December 2016, the US federal court in Detroit ordered a retrial, paving the way for Odeh to argue that her confession and conviction in Israel came as the result of torture by Israeli security forces – potentially putting the Shin Bet “on trial” in a US court.
Odeh would like the retrial to focus on her allegations of being tortured into a false confession by the Shin Bet, causing her to have post-traumatic stress disorder and to leave her terrorist conviction off her immigration application to the US. The US attorney’s motion is designed to keep the focus on her participation in the 1969 bombing.
Some documents for this article were obtained from the Investigative Project on Terrorism and the Legal Insurrection blog.