Opinion

Why we invited Rasmea Odeh to our conference

Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh leaves the federal courthouse with supporters after her sentencing in Detroit on March 12, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Rebecca Cook *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WISE-OPED, originally transmitted on March 28, 2017.

(RNS) Palestinians have a saying: When your occupier is your judge and your jury, where do you go for justice?

To understand this, look no further than the story of Rasmea Odeh.

Odeh was convicted of participating in two bombings in Israel after a confession she says was made under torture and sexual abuse, including in front of her father.

For me it is simple: I believe her.

I believe a trusted and beloved community leader, not an Israeli military court — especially given the 99.74 percent conviction rate that Israeli military courts in the occupied Palestinian territories are reported to have.

But the energy with which my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, is being attacked for inviting her to speak at our national membership meeting this weekend (March 31-April 2) in Chicago is truly alarming.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this harassment and demonization of a Palestinian elder who has faithfully served her community for decades. The attacks on Odeh come in the context of long-standing anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim policies both in Israel and in the U.S. These policies are intensifying under the Trump administration.

And Jews are not immune from participating, and at times initiating and fueling, Islamophobia.

I am not proud to admit it, but I believe it is important that I do so: The Jewish community that educated me also taught me to hate. I recently found a note I wrote my parents from my Jewish summer camp when I was 11 years old. I wrote to them “Camp is great. We played Arab-Israeli war today. I had to be an Arab (frowny face) but luckily I got ‘killed’ and we lost.”

When I wrote that note I had not ever met, spoken with or known a single Arab.

Now that I am a mother, I could not be prouder that my kids are being raised in a Jewish environment that prioritizes listening to and partnering with those harmed by systems of oppression. I am proud that next weekend my family will join me at JVP’s national convention to hear from leaders from the Movement for Black Lives, the Women’s March, Standing Rock, Muslim communities, immigrant communities and, of course, Palestinians.

I don’t take lightly the enormity of the loss to the victims of the bombing that took place in 1969 that Odeh is alleged to have been involved in. I hear and feel their grief. I do this work out of a deep reverence for all life. At Jewish Voice for Peace we condemn all forms of violence against civilians.

Demonstrators in New York City demand a new trial for Rasmea Odeh, a 67-year-old Chicago resident and former Palestinian political prisoner, appealing a conviction on June 10, 2016. Odeh was convicted for failing to disclose her prior capture and imprisonment by Israeli occupation forces on a U.S. immigration form. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Joe Catron

Torture has no place here in the U.S. or in Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories. Neither do the coerced confessions that torture produces.

The way Odeh is being targeted and harassed is deeply Islamophobic. It plays into the “war on terror” rhetoric that defines all Muslims as terrorists. The kind of continuing persecution she faces is both a reminder and a warning of the tactics used by the U.S. and Israel. We stand for the victims of torture and against the torturers.

As a Jew, a rabbi and deputy director at Jewish Voice for Peace, I take seriously that we must be part of creating cultures and societies centered on justice. The work I do is inspired by the Jewish education I got from my Jewish day school and summer camps, and of course my rabbinical training. It is because of the strong ethical imperatives woven into every element of living a Jewish life: how we pray, how we mourn, how we forgive, how we eat, how we engage with text and history.

We are proud to be a Jewish organization that is rooted in love for people and love for community. That is who we are, why we do this work and how we have become one of the fastest-growing Jewish organizations in the United States.

For the past 18 years I have been organizing for justice for Palestinians, and I have had that time to reflect on the question: When your occupier is your judge and jury, where do you go for justice? And I have an answer. We go to communities of conscience and integrity. We go to each other.

(Rabbi Alissa Wise is deputy director at Jewish Voice for Peace)

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Alissa Wise

41 Comments

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  • This just makes me roll my eyes and understand why the left in Israel never wins anymore. I support social justice and the Palestinians, but I will not become a masochist to do it. “if not now, when?” comes from Hillel, but she has forgotten the first two lines. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

  • She is not just a terrorist who killed two young college students, and confessed. She admits as much in the video “Women in Struggle”. A video made far away from “the occupiers.” Plus – explosives were found underneath her bed. But importantly – because this is what she was tried for most recently, in the US – she is also a liar. She lied on her application form for US residency. Saying she was never arrested. Have you read that application? You are the furthest thing from a community of integrity if you blatantly ignore these facts. You are the opposite – a spreader of untruths. That’s not good.

  • You are no longer a Jew. You are dejudasised and the shameful fear that has driven you to embrace terrorists will be the undoing of your children who you seem proud to bring up as useless and scared as you are.

    How are you the fastest growing Jewish organisation? Jews want nothing to do with you disgusting Amalek

  • More apologetics to justify the Palestinian push to remove Israel. She is a criminal, a murderer, a terrorist, and a liar/deceiver. This is why the left is loosing their credibility fast. They are unable to stand on principles, and will endorse anyone who they think will push their agenda thereby negating their legitimacy. Since they lack integrity, their causes will just spiral down further into irrelevancy. Is this all the left can get, the backwash of supporters.

  • Actually, I do support a two-state solution as long as Israel’s security is guaranteed.

  • Alissa Wise has clearly not done any research. Rasmea Odeh confessed after one day. Bomb making equipment was found in her apartment. The Red Cross monitored the trial and found it was fair and conducted lawfully. And Rasmea’s co-conspirators bragged about their role in the attack in Arabic, in the Arabic media. They didn’t accuse Israel of torture. They didn’t profess their innocence. They spoke, coldly about how they placed the first bomb, in a grocery store, and timed the second bomb to explode shortly after, in an effort to kill the first responders. The clips are easily available – downloaded by journalists and investigators who knew they might otherwise disappear. Innocent people don’t use a dozen aliases, Alissa. Even people with post traumatic stress syndrome remember their own name.
    With this appalling action, “Jewish” Voice for Peace has alienated many of their supporters, and quite likely, the entire Jewish community. Jewish lives shouldn’t come cheap to Jewish voice for peace. Jewish Lives Matter.

  • Jewish Voice for Peace is not the “fastest” growing Jewish organization. They are expecting 900 people at their convention. AIPAC just had 18,000 at their event this weekend. Friends of the IDF has thousands attending their events. Stand With Us has thousands attending their events. I did a quick google. JVP just reduced their dues from 60 dollars a year to 18 dollars, in an effort to “grow” quicker. And judging by their marketing, they do not cater to a Jewish audience. Apparently they once offered Ramadan accommodations (but not kosher food!) at one of their programs

  • She’s on video with her sister who admitted that Rasmea Odeh was very happy to kill the 2 Jews, rasmea Odeh did not even object and seemed happy with the statement her own sister made.

    JVP is an EXTREMIST group that inspires antisemitism.

  • Once upon a time, the Middle East was full of Jews.

    Algeria had 140,000 Jews. Algeria, where are your Jews?

    Egypt used to have 75,000 Jews. Where are your Jews?

    Syria, you had tens of thousands of Jews. Where are your Jews?

    Iraq, you had over 135,000 Jews. Where are your Jews?

    Mr. President, where is the apartheid? In Muslim countries that have ETHNICLY CLEANSED Jews.

  • What bothers me more than the threats of violence is that the Jewish leadership stands back silently. “All that is required for evil to triumph” and all that. We’ve learned nothing. That’s ok, I will fix it. 🙂

  • Thank you Rabbi Wise. The vitriol in these comments makes your point. Nobody here can claim to know without doubt what happened 46 years ago. Neither her defenders or her attackers. To be utterly sure seems to be the problem. If what JVP is asking is that we hear this story. I vote we hear her.

  • Her own sister DETAILED on VIDEO that Rasmeh was very happy to kill 2 Jews.

    JVP is an extremist hate group that inspires hatred to Jews and it inspires violence.

  • I applaud, in the interest of free speech, that JVP is giving this woman a forum, that is the hallmark of an open society. I wonder what she will have to say. On the other hand, every group listed as participating in this event are among those most vociferously disaffected by their circumstances and the world they live in according to their own lights. This will hardly be a positive event with positive suggestions for ameliorating the present state of the world. Grouse if you must dear people, but then offer proactive solutions to the problems you perceive. Solutions I might add, that are not punitive in nature, and framed solely by your own sense of victimhood.

  • JVP will be hosting a self admitted killer of Jews, who her own sister said openly on video beside Rasmea that Rasmea was very happy with the murders of Jews.

    Yes JVP is an EXTREMIST group and more people need to educated on JVP’s hate.

  • I see you are passionate about this. But let’s at least admit that JVP is not hosting her in order to advocate for hatred or murder.

  • They were “invited” to Israel. Before that colony was created they were living quite happily in their OWN countries. Speaking of ethnically cleansing Jews, what do you call it when the government of Israel at it’s very inception stole babies from Middle Eastern Jews and gave them to white European colonists to be “raised properly”. From it’s very beginning Israel only supported Middle Eastern and African Jews as a numbers game to outdo the natives. However, Israeli society is very racist towards non-whites even fellow Jews. Regarding Jews in Palestine, there have always been Jews there, my own grandfather spoke Hebrew growing up because many of his neighbors and friends were Palestinian Jews. Also, where do you think Palestinians came from? Do you think the land magically emptied at some stage, Arabs showed up and thought “hmmm, this seems nice”. The truth is the land has always been coveted and successive waves of conquerors came, and intermarried with the natives. Their descendants are the Palestinians, that is why many Palestinian families, including mine, have Jewish, Christian and Muslim branches. The difference between those conquerors and Israeli colonists is the conquerors knew where they came from while for the colonists, their whole identity is predicated on eradicating the existence and history of the natives to fit their own false narrative of “A land without people for a people without land”. The utter gall of people showing up, claiming their ancestor was from this land 2,000 years ago, then using that to claim they have a greater right to the land than the ACTUAL natives is ridiculous. But that is why most Israelis cannot consider Palestinians except as “other” because how else can the theft of the land be justified?

  • Most people appear to not believe Odeh’s story, mostly due to the overwhelming evidence against her. JVP seems content with taking her story at face value.
    It is true that we do not know the truth about who was responsible for that bomb; but the mere possibility (not to say probability) of Odeh’s involvement should exclude her from any “human rights” event.

  • Even before the creation of Israel, Jews were persecuted throughout the Middle East (like much of the rest of the world). After 1948, many Jews were expelled, many had their property seized and forced to flee.
    Do your homework, at the very least…

  • I have just one point to make, and I hope you will take the time to consider it:
    That statistic that you keep flaunting, the one about the 99.74% conviction rate, is neither true nor relevant in this case. It is not true- as any critically thinking human being can discern from reading the original article in Haaretz (it does make for a flashy headline though). And it is not relevant, since it refers to 2011, while Odeh was tried in 1970. I think you know both of these things to be true. Your continued use of that statistic reflects poorly on you, and shows your disingenuousness.

  • But ought we not to be at least, well, curious, about what she’s been doing and saying for the past 46 years? She was 21 when that incident occurred, she’s 67 now. Does she have a long record of advocating violence? This seems to me like this sort of situation: If we knew someone was implicated in a lynching 46 years ago, but was promoting racial reconciliation now — would we want to hear that person, or would we cross him off the list? I’d say it depends on what he’d been doing and saying since. How he accounted for that moment in time, of course, and what his actual record had been since.

  • Not only is JVP an extremist group but anyone in that event with Odeh is complicit in racism, bigotry and terrorism.

    #dumpjihad

  • She never expressed remorse at the lives lost in the bombing. Never showed any sympathy for the victims. Never accepted responsibility for, at the very least, being part of the gang that planted that bomb, and failing to stop them.
    People do deserve second chances, especially if their record deems it. Her record does not garner her redemption. Her positive impact, and surely she has had a positive impact these past years, does not amount to such that would negate her former misconduct. That is, at least, my opinion.

  • But you must admit that JVP’s hosting her does send a mixed message about the organization’s tolerance to violence, at least when it is directed at Israelis.

  • Jews were always the Dhimis in Muslim countries, they were second class citizens many not be being able to hold certain positions in government, Jews and christains always had to pay the EXTRA racist Jiziya taxes in Muslim countries.

    There were Muslim mobs that not only beat up Jews in Muslim countries but through out history this was the case.

    Time to compensate what Muslim countries have done to the Jews by ethnicly cleansing and stealing Jewish property which is essentiallying APARTHEID.

    By the way Muslim countries are doing this now to other minorities in the middle east such as christains, Kurds Assyrians and more.

  • “Syria, Iraq, where are your Christians? A century ago, Christians were some 20% of the Middle East. Today, that figure is estimated to be around 4%. Those who can escape persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists have fled. Since 2000, over 77% of #Iraq’s 700,000 Christians have fled. In #Syria where there were 2 million Christians, there are now less than a quarter million.”
    — Incredible U.N. testimony by Father Gabriel Naddaf, on behalf of UN Watch

    #WhereAreYourChristians
    Transcript: https://www.unwatch.org/arab-priest-tell-un-rights-council-end-hunt-israel/

    #WhereAreYourJews Hillel Neuer’s viral speech from last week: https://www.facebook.com/unwatch/videos/10154249843651561/

  • The tax was to compensate for the fact that Jews and Christians were free from army conscription which the Muslims were forced into. Regarding mob beatings, I think you are confusing Muslim countries and Europe, get your facts straight. Lastly, the only reason Israel came into existence was because people were escaping the massacres carried out by Europeans against the Jews. You want someone to pay?? ask Europe to give you one of their countries and stay out of the Middle East that your ancestors abandoned.

  • “Israel’s creation did NOT help Middle Eastern Jews”. You are absolutely right. After the creation of Israel, the Arab states started to severely abuse their Jews, blaming them for the Arab defeat.
    However, blaming this mistreatment on Israel is simply asinine; it is akin to blaming the Jews for the Holocaust, or Russian pogroms. The Jews in Arab nations had nothing to do with the creation of Israel, nor with the consequent defeat of the Arab Legion. This is simple logic. The fact that you would blame Israel for the atrocities committed by others is simply staggering, and says a lot about you.

  • I, an Israeli Jew, who is occasionally forced to hysterically grab the phone to check whether my friends and relatives are OK, believe JVP to be kapos and traitors of the worst kind. Kapos pf the WW2 were under duress – those volunteer. They would rather believe terrorists than fellow Jews.

  • It does condone violence. It just calls it “resistance”. JVP does not condemn the brutal targeting of Israeli civilians, other than with a passing statement followed by a “But”. JVP does nothing to strengthen the true peacemakers- those building strong culltural and economic ties between the Jewish and the Palestinian people. When JVP starts sponsoring football teams with both Jews and Arab youth, or scout troops with both Jews and Arabs, then I might believe they are working towards peace. As for now, they dismiss co-existence with a sneer.

    And why would they? They make a living from fanning the flames of conflict. They travel all over the world , on someone else’s dime, promoting this agenda

  • Read their mission statement which condemns violence against civilians. No buts. “an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.” And:

    “JVP opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression. JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.”

    Asking them to sponsor football teams is like asking the Democratic party in the US to form soccer leagues in Ghana. Great idea, I’m sure they’d support the idea, but not their immediate mission.

  • I have never expressed remorse for the victims of a murder right down the street from me. I have expressed sorrow, but remorse would mean I’d accepted responsibility.

    You don’t want to hear her, so you don’t know whether she feels sorrow, or what she thinks about innocent victims of bombings.

  • But Arabs do not want a two state solution. Those you associate with demand a one state and a final solution. I cannot figure if you are naive or so scared that you take this path? My Ggrandmother bought huge land swathes from the Iranian Christian and Muslim owners and even in the 50s when 600,000 Syrians were planted into our legally held lands she hoped for Peace. These like so many Arabs claim a right of return for their relatives on our legally held lands. What of us?
    Where is our rights when these Arab invaders build wherever they like? Every 12 years we reestablish our ownership rights in Judea and Samaria
    There will never be a two state solution when self styled (1967/69) Palestinians refuse to accept international laws. Who shouts and screams for my families rights? For the rights of Jews and Christians.

    Not you Madam

  • Do you acknowledge that these Palestinians you support only started calling themselves Palestinian in the late 1960s?
    Before that they were Syrian/Jordanian/Other

    I fear there is no money or reverance representing Jews and Christians.

    You support Terrorists. You are a Terrorist

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