Rasmieh Odeh, a Palestinian woman convicted of killing two college students in a 1969 Jerusalem grocery store bombing, faces possible prison time and eventual deportation from the United States after being convicted Monday of naturalization fraud.
A federal jury in Detroit deliberated about two hours before convicting the 67-year-old Odeh. The charges stem from her failure to disclose to U.S. immigration authorities her conviction and life prison sentence in Israel for a series of Jerusalem bombings that killed two people.
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 misunderstood 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 here on 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.”
Odeh testified that she remembered Williams and the interview, but said that Williams did not add the phrase to the question.
Several prosecution witnesses who review visa and naturalization applications say any conviction for bombings involving deaths is a “stop sign” that would prevent an immigrant from coming to the United States.
Odeh insisted she was not trying to hide that record, claiming it was something known to U.S. officials.
Defense attorney Michael Deutsch argued that Odeh was not really guilty of the Jerusalem bombings, mentioning in closing arguments that she was tried by a military court. “Ask yourself what this case is all about,” he said in closing arguments Friday.
Pretrial rulings by Judge Drain prevented Deutsch from introducing evidence and testimony about the Israeli conviction, saying the defense was not going to re-try a 45-year-old case from another country.
“Today’s guilty verdict further emphasizes that the United States will never be a safe haven for individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts, no matter how distant that past might be,” Marlon Miller, special agent in charge of Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Detroit, said in a news release. “When individuals lie on immigration documents, the system is severely undermined and the security of our nation is put at risk.”
Odeh has been associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. 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 Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a group of 124 feminist academics.
For more background on the case and Odeh’s bombing conviction, see our five-part video series, “Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim.”
Updated: Odeh has been placed in custody pending a March 10 sentencing date. She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and will lose her American citizenship.
Odeh worked as Obamacare Navigator.