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Federal Court finds Palestinian Woman Guilty of Naturalization Fraud

On November 10th, a Detroit federal district court jury returned a verdict of guilty in the naturalization fraud case of 67 year old Rasmieh Odeh, who failed to disclose on her citizenship application her involvement in a 1969 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem that killed two Hebrew University Students. Odeh could face a 10 year federal prison term before deportation. The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) which has followed the Odeh case reported the circumstances behind the verdict in the Eastern Michigan federal district court case, “Rasmieh Odeh Guilty of Naturalization Fraud”:

U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain told jurors the “verdict is a fair and reasonable one based on the evidence that came in,” the Associated Press reports.

That means jurors were convinced she knowingly lied on her immigration applications, and did not accept defense arguments that she merely misunderstand questions she found ambiguous.

While she claims her Israeli conviction was unjust, the fraud case was focused on what Odeh told U.S. immigration officials when she first applied to come hereon a visa obtained in 1995 and when she applied for naturalization in 2004.

In both instances, Odeh claimed she had never been arrested, convicted or imprisoned. She also claimed to have lived only in Amman, Jordan since turning 16, omitting the 10 years she spent in an Israeli prison. She was released in 1979 as part of a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and spent four years living in Lebanon. The 1969 bombings of a Jerusalem Supersol grocery store and of a British consulate in the city were PFLP attacks.

The Supersol attack claimed the lives of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, two Hebrew University students who stopped in for supplies before a planned hiking trip.

Odeh testified Friday that she didn’t understand English when she applied for the visa 20 years ago. She relied on answers her brother provided. When she applied to become an American citizen, she said she thought the criminal history questions, which asked if she “EVER” had a record, applied only to her time in the United States.

But prosecutors noted that, for those who did have a record, the form asks for more information, including the charges involved, and the city, state and country where it happened. In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer Jennifer Williams – who interviewed Odeh in 2004 as part of the naturalization process – testified that she asks all immigrant applicants to disclose any criminal history “anywhere in the world.”

A pre-trial hearing on October 27, 2014 in the Eastern District Court in Detroit Michigan basically “destroyed”   the defense’s case leaving only one thin reed, “the prosecution’ cannot use the terms, “terrorism” or “terrorist.” According to William A Jacobson, Cornell University Professor of Clinical Law, in an evaluation of the Odeh case on the blog, Legal Insurrection:

All in all, these rulings are devastating to the defense. The government now only needs to introduce evidence of her convictions in Israel and her application in which those convictions were not disclosed. The defense cannot counter with claims that the convictions were wrongful, or that she suffered any form of PTSD as a result of her alleged coercion.

Couple this with protections the Court has put in place to protect jurors from influences by pro-Palestinian activists, and there doesn’t seem to be any viable defense.

IPT in late October 2014 released a five part series, “Spinning a Terrorist into a Victim.” Rasmieh Odeh, a Chicago area Palestinian activist was the subject that investigative series. The IPT team, Emerson said, had interviewed a number of the relatives and friends of the students killed and injured in the PFLP bombing, many now in their 50’s and 60’s.

 Odeh was arrested on October 22, 2013 under a Federal indictment for not disclosing her prior Israeli conviction, sentencing and incarceration for the PFLP terror bombing.   Odeh defended her misrepresentations on her application for citizenship on the grounds that she had been tortured while incarcerated in Israel.

 Given today’s Eastern Michigan federal court verdict, Odeh could face a 10 year sentence and deportation.   The IPT report today noted  who rallied to her defense:

Her prosecution sparked a campaign by colleagues and supporters aimed at pressuring the U.S. Attorney in Detroit to drop the case. Dozens of people traveled from Chicago, where Odeh now lives, to Detroit, to pack the courtroom during the trial and demonstrate in front of the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse.

The Investigative Project on Terrorism tracked the campaign on Odeh’s behalf for months, including the support it attracted from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination CommitteeAmerican Muslims for Palestine, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a group of 124 feminist academics.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured photo is of Rasmieh Odeh. Source: The Investigative Project on Terrorism.