Organizer Rasmea Odeh speaks at Northwestern for SJP’s Israeli Apartheid Week


Kate Salvidio/The Daily Northwestern

Palestinian organizer Rasmea Odeh speaks about her fight for liberation in the Technological Institute on Monday. The talk is a part of a series of events held by Students for Justice in Palestine for their Israeli Apartheid Week.

Catherine Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

Palestinian organizer Rasmea Odeh and University of Illinois at Chicago Prof. Nadine Naber spoke Monday about the Palestinian experience in both the Middle East and the U.S., saying Palestine supporters must continue to fight for liberation.

The talk, held in Technological Institute and attended by more than 70 people, was part of a series of events hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine for Israeli Apartheid Week. The week aims to “shed a light on the settler colonial project,” according to SJP’s Facebook page. Monday also marked the 69th anniversary of Nakba, which many Palestinians observe as a forced eviction from their homes following the creation of the state of Israel. Others refer to the 1948 signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence as Israel Independence Day.

Odeh was convicted by the Israeli government in 1969 for participating in bombings that killed two Israeli college students. However, she said she was convicted after being tortured into making a false confession. Odeh was arrested in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for failing to disclose her arrest, conviction and imprisonment history while applying for U.S. citizenship. In March 2017, Odeh accepted a plea agreement where she would no longer serve prison time, but would be stripped of her U.S. citizenship and deported.

SJP president Marcel Hanna said Odeh is just one example of the systematic oppression of Palestinians within the Israeli justice system. Several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have reported on the detainment and torture of Palestinians in Israel, the Weinberg senior said.

“The purpose of the Apartheid Week is to highlight the apartheid system that is put in place in Palestine and the way Palestinians are systematically disenfranchised … the way that they are treated in the Israeli justice system is one part of them,” he said.

Half an hour before the event in Tech began, a group of students from Fiedler Hillel, Wildcats for Israel and J Street U organized a vigil to mourn the two students who were killed in the 1969 bombing. More than 120 people, including University President Morton Schapiro, attended the vigil.

Jeffrey Wang/Daily Senior Staffer
Students stand outside of the Technological Institute during a vigil organized by Fiedler Hillel Monday. The vigil was held to mourn the death of the two Israeli students who died in the 1969 bombing, which Rasmea Odeh was convicted for.

Hillel president Samantha Max said the vigil was not pro-Israel or a direct response to anything Odeh would say during the event.

“We wanted to offer space for people to decompress and we wanted to really focus it on the victims, these two people who were killed in the 1969 bombing attack,” the Medill junior said. “And really just offer an alternative space for people that would in no way disrupt the event.”

Max said she acknowledges the importance of free speech, especially regarding controversial events. It’s important that all people have the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their perspectives, she said.

In a statement, University spokesman Bob Rowley said student groups at NU regularly bring speakers whose views are controversial. Such invitations should not be interpreted as University endorsements of those speakers or their views, he said.

Rowley said the University believes controversial speakers should not be censored.

“That would be counterproductive, and it also would ignore Northwestern’s values of free expression and a commitment to robust discourse of ideas,” Rowley said in the statement.

During the event, Odeh said the “racist nature” of the U.S. justice system contributed to her deportation. Still, she said that does not stop her from fighting for the rights of Palestinians.

“I will continue my struggle for justice for my people,” Odeh said. “I will continue the struggle for the right of return, for self-determination and for the establishment of a democratic state on the entirety of the historic land of Palestine.”

Odeh added that all supporters, including those in the U.S., should come together to work toward the goals of justice, freedom and independence for Palestinians. She encouraged American youth to continue resisting President Donald Trump’s agenda, challenging Zionism and providing support to Palestinians and Arabs in the national liberation movement.

Naber said the obstacles Odeh has faced in the U.S. justice and immigration system are a reflection of the systematic oppression incorporated within the institution. For example, Naber said the courtroom keeping Odeh from telling her story about being sexually assaulted while imprisoned is a reflection of U.S. rape culture and how it silences victims.

“Despite all the structures of power, violence and oppression that I’ve been talking about, she has continued to stay strong and speak up and serve as a mentor to so many of us and so many of our movements,” Naber said. “She is an embodiment of Arab and Muslim struggles against colonialism, war and racism.”

Weinberg fifth-year student Edward Duron, who attended the event, told The Daily he was also present for Israel Week, a series of programs hosted by Hillel to commemorate and reflect on Israel’s independence. Going forward, he said it is important to realize the imbalances of power in the current dialogue.

“We have to acknowledge that as much as we as a university like to focus on dialogue, we need to acknowledge that the Israeli, Zionist, colonist dialogue is the dominant narrative,” Duron told The Daily. “There really can’t be a dialogue with unequal powers like that, with a dominant narrative of colonialism and almost an underdog narrative of the Palestinians.”

This story was updated to include how many people attended the vigil and that University President Morton Schapiro was present.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how many people attended the event, which student groups hosted the vigil and that Samantha Max attended the event. More than 70 people attended the event, and the vigil was hosted by Fiedler Hillel, Wildcats for Israel and J Street U. Max did not go to the event. The Daily regrets the errors.

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