(JTA) — A Palestinian woman who is being forced to leave the United States for not telling immigration authorities that she was imprisoned in Israel for two terror attacks told a U.S. Jewish group that they must stop the “Zionists” from their “land grab.”
Rasmea Odeh was the keynote speaker on Sunday in Chicago at a summit of the Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Odeh, 69, accepted a plea bargain last month that forces her to leave the country and strips her U.S. citizenship. She had been fighting in the courts for years.
Also speaking at the conference was the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who raised hackles among liberal American Jews recently by saying that women who are uncritically pro-Israel cannot be feminist because they are ignoring the rights of Palestinian women.
Meanwhile, during Odeh’s address, the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs held a memorial ceremony at the same hotel for Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, the two men killed in the 1969 bombing in Jerusalem for which Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court. The group had been denied a request to rent a conference room at the insistence of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Odeh spoke about having to leave the United States.
“I thought when I came to the U.S., and made it my second home, it would be the last station in a journey of struggle that I shared with my Palestinian people in response to the Nakba [catastrophe] and the occupation of 1967,” she told the audience of about 1,000, referring to the Palestinians’ perception of Israel’s founding, including their forced and voluntary displacement to neighboring countries.
She added: “Now I face a similar Nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the U.S., but I will continue my struggle for justice for my people wherever I land.”
Odeh, a leader of the grassroots International Women’s Strike, told the audience that Americans are “in the streets” resisting President Donald Trump every day.
She continued: “Of course, Zionists aren’t going to stop their land grab in Palestine either. The Palestinians there and the Palestinians and our supporters here have to stop them with our resistance and our organization.”
In 1970, Odeh was sentenced to life in prison for two bombing attacks on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and spent 10 years in prison before being released in a prisoner exchange in 1980.
In 2015, she was sentenced in the U.S. to 18 months in prison for covering up her conviction and imprisonment in Israel when she entered the country in 1995 and applied for citizenship in 2004, but the conviction was later vacated to allow Odeh to show that she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder over her alleged mistreatment while in prison.
In a statement welcoming Odeh as a speaker at the conference, JVP officials said that the accusations against her were the result of “persecution” by Israel and the United States.
“We are eager to hear from Odeh, a feminist leader in the Palestinian and Arab-American community in Chicago, precisely because she has survived decades of Israeli and U.S. government persecution and oppression, and also because she lives and breathes the essential work of community organizing – having spent her life as both a lawyer and organizer for the empowerment of Arab women,” according to the statement.
Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington who recently raised thousands of dollars to repair anti-Semitic vandalism at three U.S. Jewish cemeteries, told the crowd: “If what is being asked of me by those who pronounce themselves and call themselves Zionist is that I, as a Palestinian American, have to somehow leave out a part of my identity so you can be welcomed in a space to work on justice, then that’s not going to be the right space for you.”
“We, as Palestinian Americans, as Arab Americans, as Muslim Americans, we will not change who we are to make anybody feel comfortable. If you ain’t all in, then this ain’t the movement for you,” she said.
StandWithUs rented a regular hotel room and held its memorial there.
In a statement, the Joffe family described Jewish Voice for Peace as “another deeply misguided so-called ‘Jewish’ organization.”
“She will soon be forgotten by her supporters who have so misguidedly championed her,” the statement said of Odeh, “but the memory of Edward and Leon will live on forever.”