Letter To The Editor: Why JVP Invited Rasmea Odeh To Speak
Next week, Jewish Voice for Peace will host our bi-annual national membership meeting in Chicago, bringing together nearly 1000 of our leaders and partners for critical conversations about resisting the harmful policies of the Trump administration and the Israeli government.
Coverage in The Forward and other Jewish press has focused on the invitation to Rasmea Odeh, questioning why JVP is hosting a “convicted terrorist.” The Forward’s report noted: “The basic facts are … Odeh, then a 21-year-old university student in Ramallah, was arrested; she later confessed to the bombings.”
This telling of Rasmea Odeh’s story skips over crucial details – painful ones to confront: Odeh was tortured for 25 days in detention, she was sexually assaulted and she witnessed the torture of her father alongside her. She has testified multiple times since then that she was forced into a false confession as a result of her abuse.
Torture is an essential element of Israeli military rule. Amnesty International reports that while more than 1,000 complaints of torture in detention were filed since 2001, no criminal investigations have been opened. In other words, torture is used with impunity against Palestinians.
It is no coincidence, given these methods, that 99.74% of military court cases in the West Bank end in conviction, according to the court’s own data.
That Rasmea Odeh was convicted — and therefore labeled a “terrorist” — evades the awful truths and broader context of what military rule actually does to the people under its control.
To be clear: at JVP we mourn the loss of all life, and condemn all forms of violence against all civilians, as a core element of our identity as a community rooted in love and justice for all people. That also includes the lives and freedom lost to a brutally unjust military court that deploys sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, and abuse. We can decry all acts of violence against civilians, and also understand —that from Nelson Mandela to Assata Shakur — the label of terrorist is far from neutral.
In both Israel and the U.S., the accusation of terrorism is used to stoke fear, dehumanize whole communities, and violently repress, incarcerate, bomb, deport, spy on, invade and occupy those communities and their homelands. The alarming recent rise in anti-Muslim policies and bigotry, of which Trump’s Muslim Ban is the biggest symbol, comes out of the context of decades of this Islamophobic “war-on-terror” rhetoric which mirrors Israel’s decades of demonizing Palestinians.
It may give readers who were horrified by the appointment of Jeff Sessions, who has a long history of being accused of racism, as Attorney General pause to consider that Odeh is giving up her fight to retain her United States citizenship because she does not believe she can receive a fair trial under the current administration. The Israeli military court system which originally convicted Odeh deserves as much or more skepticism as the “justice” system here in the U.S., which we know to be skewed by racism and Islamophobia.
Odeh’s plea bargain will force an almost 70-year-old woman to give up her citizenship and leave her long-time home and community. Odeh’s forced exile is a devastating loss for the communities she has spent decades serving as a tireless advocate and organizer. We are honored to hear from her before she is uprooted again. No one yet knows where she will go, since she cannot return to her homeland, like millions of other Palestinians.
JVP’s National Membership Meeting will be a vibrant, beautiful coming together of our members — chapter leaders, rabbis, academics, students, health workers and more — where we will be analyzing, strategizing, singing, praying, dancing and learning from a broad array of leaders across intersectional movements for justice. We are proud to host Rasmea Odeh as one of many speakers from whom we can learn from about grassroots leadership in struggles for justice in these very difficult days.
Rebecca Vilkomerson is executive director of Jewish Voice For Peace.