CHICAGO (STMW) — A Palestinian immigrant who hid an Israeli terrorism conviction from U.S. authorities when she moved to the Chicago suburbs in the 1990s has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and will likely be deported to Jordan upon her release.
Evergreen Park activist Rasmieh Odeh, 66, was handed the sentence by U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain.
“This case is not about the Israel/Palestinian conflict or about freedom fighters…it’s about whether someone was truthful when they tried to get into the country,” Drain said.
Convicted by an Israeli court of taking part in a Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two students in 1969, Odeh claimed she was tortured into a confession by Israeli authorities. After she was eventually freed in a prisoner swap, she confessed decades later to an academic sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that she was, in fact, guilty of participating in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attack, federal prosecutors say.
But when she moved to the U.S. in the 1990s, she did not mention the Israeli conviction when she filled out an immigration form, a jury found at a trial last year.
Supported in court by dozens of supporters from Chicago’s Arab-American community, Odeh on Thursday gave a passionate defense of her life at her sentencing hearing in Detroit’s federal courthouse.
While Drain said he believed she was responsible for the supermarket bombing, he also believed she was a changed person.
Though federal sentencing guidelines — meant to help avoid unreasonable disparities between sentences across the nation — called for a sentence of 12 to 18 months in Odeh’s case, prosecutors asked for a sentence of 5 to 7 years.
“The civilized world currently is struggling with the issue of ‘foreign fighters’ who go to Syria, Iraq and other places for terrorist training and then fight on behalf of ISIS and other designated terrorist organizations, and who often then return home,” prosecutors Jonathan Tukel and Mark Jebson wrote in court papers filed ahead of the sentencing hearing.
“A light sentence in this case would be a signal to anyone who has fought overseas for ISIS or a similar organization that there is not much risk in coming to the United States, hiding one’s past and seeking citizenship.”
But Odeh’s lawyers argued she was a freedom fighter, not a terrorist, and that she has done only good works since arriving in Chicago’s Arab-American community. They alleged the government was trying to “curry favor with their American Zionist constituents and obfuscate 67 years of Israeli terrorism” by pushing for an unusually harsh sentence.
Her lawyers, James Fennerty and Michael Deutsch, accused the government of a politically motivated prosecution that attempts to silence domestic criticism of U.S. support for Israel.
“Now, with the bodies of hundreds of innocents slaughtered in Gaza in August fresh in the minds of all who bother to care about humanity, the prosecution here demands a wholly unjustified, draconian sentence, for illegitimate political purposes, against this woman who has suffered so much and given so much,” they wrote.
Sentencing expert Todd Haugh — a professor at Indiana University — said that sentences above the federal guidelines range were especially rare in immigration fraud cases. Just 50 of 1,700 sentences imposed in such cases in 2011 were above the guideline range, he said.
Haugh called the government’s suggestion that ISIS fighters will take note of Odeh’s sentence “ridiculous,” but added that when the government does ask for above guideline sentences, it is most often in high-profile cases, such as those connected to terrorism.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2015. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)