Rasmieh Yousef Odeh: Shelf Life of a Terrorist

The United States (US) Department of Insurance (DoI) recently discovered that Rasmieh Yousef Odeh (c. 1947), who worked as an Obamacare Navigator in Illinois, has a prior conviction related to violent terrorist acts carried out in a crowded Shufersol grocery store in West Jerusalem and the bombing of the British Consulate in Jerusalem in February 1969.

The attacks claimed the lives of two students of the Hebrew University (Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe). A bomb was hidden in a candy box on a shelf. An Israeli government website stated that 10 others were injured as a result of the bomb blast.

Thousands of students attended the funeral of the two victims.

At 21, Odeh was a member of the Palestinian Marxist-Leninist group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—an offshoot of the Harakat al-Qawmiyyin al-Arab (Arab Nationalist Movement [ANM]). The bombing of Shufersol was one of the first attacks perpetrated by the PFLP.

Since its formation in 1967, several other notable groups have grown out of the PFLP, namely the Palestinian Popular Struggle (PPSF), the Syrian-backed Popular Front fort the Liberation of Palestine—General Command (PFLP-GC), the Democratic From for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Popular Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PRFLP), which formed after the PFLP split.

Odeh was also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) (founded in 1964), designated a terrorist organization by Canada and the US.

Torture by Israeli authorities (which allegedly involve rape) and her eventual migration to the US form part of her inauspicious history.

The Jerusalem Post reported, on January 23, 1970, that the Schupersol “saboteurs [were] sentenced to life.” But Odeh did not share the same fate as the other terrorists with whom she worked.

In 2004, Odeh became a naturalized US citizen.

According to Illinois’ DoI, Odeh’s certification as a Navigator In-Person Counsellor based on “an investigation which revealed that she had been convicted in Israel for her role in the bombings […] and [for failing to] reveal the conviction on her application” (quoted in National Review).

The situation has taken place on a state-level and was not originally a federal matter. Odeh was not given a job with the authorities knowing of her criminal past.

In 2013, authorities arrested Odeh in Chicago. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “[i]n her immigration documents filed in the United States, the indictment alleges, Odeh omitted her arrest, conviction, and imprisonment overseas, which were material facts for the United States government in determining whether to grant her citizenship.”

William Hayes, acting special FBI agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Detroit, explained, “[t]he United States will never be a safe haven for individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts […] [w]hen individuals lie on immigration documents, the system is severely undermined and the security of our nation is put at risk” (United With Israel)

Odeh, if found guilty, could face 10 years in prison and be stripped of her US citizenship if found guilty of naturalization fraud.

During a pro-Gaza rally in Chicago on July 9, 2014, those offering in-person support for Odeh said, “[t]here’s absolutely no reason to criminalize her history and her contribution to our [Palestinian] people […] So free Rasmieh. She deserves to be out of court. She deserves to be free.”

After several decades of living in the US and being a naturalized citizen, Odeh has found a solid support group. But her personal history remains a continuity of criminal activity.

She came to the US and committed fraud, not only to get there, but also to escape her past and to stay. She was made a US citizen well into the former Bush administration’s “War on Terror” (WoT)—a macro-securitization arrangement opposing the very activity that had come to define her.

So, does Rasmieh Yousef Odeh (now both terrorist and “victim”)—including her adherents—need to acknowledge what she has done, if they are to truly support her?

Odeh’s lawyer argues she is targeted for political reasons. He claims this entire case is the product of “an illegal investigation of the First Amendment activities” and can be characterized as “selective prosecution” (Haaretz).

Samer E. Khalaf, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (AAADC) told reporters, Odeh is an exemplary citizen and well-respected leader in the Chicago Arab-American community.” AAADC also stated that the situation “plays into the belief and perception that the … government is intentionally targeting and prosecuting Arab American activists” (Global Research).

Odeh’s case is not only one concerning her past. It could set a legal precedent for future immigrants wanting to live in the US with a criminal or terrorist past, but prove they are exemplary citizens later in life.

The WoT has also highlighted the fact that many youth across the globe are joining to fight among the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front (also Nusra Front of Jabhat al-Nusra), and many others.

Odeh’s case presents the US with the opportunity to show how the application of law can be used to demobilize at the individual level. Columbia, helped by Law 418 (1997) and Law 782 (2002), to demobilize at both the individual and group level. The laws help those working with armed groups to be given amnesty for their “political crimes.” Columbia’s initiative is often referred to as the Reincorporation Program.

John Hogan and Kurt Braddock (International Center for the Study of Terrorism, Pennsylvania State University) assert, “[i]f there is a group that is more likely to fit the idea of what it is to be de-radicalized, it is those that voluntarily disengage.” For detractors of the court process in which Odeh finds herself, the procedure could be the basis for a procedure involving open dialogue and socio-psychological intervention (part of Saudi Arabia’ counselling program).

Reintegrating fighters is always a complicated and challenging process, but how long can states turn their backs on their own, or potential, citizens?

*This op-ed piece was co-authored with Stewart Webb

Stewart Webb is the editor of DefenceReport. He holds an MScEcon in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University (UK) and a BA in Political Science from Acadia University (Canada). He is the co-editor of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Modern War (forthcoming, 2015), Taylor & Francis. 

About the Author
Dr. Scott N. Romaniuk completed his PhD at the School of International Studies, University of Trento. He holds an MRes in Political Research, an MA in Terrorism, Crime and Global Security, and an MA in Military Studies (Joint Warfare). His teaching and research specializations include International Relations, Military and Strategic Studies, Security Studies, Terrorism and Political Violence, and Research Methods. He is a Senior Research Affiliate with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS) and a member of the Conflict, Terrorism and Development (CTD) Collaboratory at Michigan State University.
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