US to retry Palestinian convicted of Jerusalem bombing

Rasmea Yousef Odeh can claim she was tortured into confessing, Detroit federal court says.

Palestinian activist Rasmieh Yousef Odeh  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian activist Rasmieh Yousef Odeh
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A federal judge in Detroit on Tuesday granted a new trial for a Palestinian charged with immigration fraud for failing to disclose that she had been convicted and imprisoned in Israel in connection with a 1969 supermarket bombing there, court officials said.
Most significantly, the decision means that Rasmea Yousef Odeh will get to argue that her confession and conviction in Israel came as the result of torture by Israeli security forces – potentially putting the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) itself “on trial” in a US court.
A US appeals court earlier this year threw out Odeh’s conviction, saying that the trial court should have allowed expert testimony that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to torture in prison and did not know her statements to immigration officials were false.
Prosecutors had asked US District Judge Gershwin Drain to reinstate her conviction. In rejecting that motion, Drain cleared the way for a new trial for Odeh, scheduled to begin on January 10.
Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center, which assisted the US Attorney’s Office with aspects of gathering Israeli evidence, did not comment on the decision.
In November 2014, a Detroit federal jury convicted Odeh of concealing her life imprisonment in Israel, and in March 2015 she was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison out of a maximum of 10 years, with the canceling of her US citizenship and deportation to Jordan.
In 1970, an Israeli military court convicted Odeh of an attack that 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 Shufersal supermarket on Agron Street in Jerusalem in 1969, and sentenced her 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 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Odeh has been supported by a concerted campaign with the slogan: “Free Rasmea, Free Palestine.”
In January, the campaign for Odeh’s release said it has attracted African- American activists, such as 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.
While she used this argument during her US trial, the court refused to allow her to make the claim, since the issue before it was solely the factual question of whether she had been convicted and lied about it, not whether the conviction was just.
Odeh has lived almost two decades in the United States and served as associate director of a Chicago-area community organization called the Arab American Action Network.
Federal prosecutors said she failed to reveal her criminal history when she immigrated to the US from Jordan in 1995, and again when she was naturalized as a US citizen in 2004.
Odeh and members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were convicted by an Israeli military court for the supermarket bombing and for placing a bomb at the British Consulate in Jerusalem.
Reuters contributed to this report.