Rasmea Odeh: Deported but not defeated


Rasmea Odeh speaks at a May Day rally on Chicago’s West Side in 2017. PHOTO/Yingxu Jane Hao/The Chicago Reporter

The U.S. deported Palestinian Chicago-based activist Rasmea Odeh a little over a year ago. Here’s how the 71-year-old is adjusting to a whole new life in Jordan.

It’s been a little over one year since Rasmea Odeh, the prominent Palestinian activist, was stripped of her U.S. citizenship and forced to leave Chicago, where she helped build a politically active Arab community during her 23 years in the United States.

It’s been a tumultuous year for U.S.-Palestine relations as well. The Trump administration has taken on particularly aggressive policies against the occupied territory. In early September, officials ordered the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization to be shut down in Washington, D.C., effectively ending Palestinian diplomatic representation in the United States. In late August, the U.S. Department of State upended a decades-long policy by canceling funding for UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees. The administration is also continuing to call for a drastic reduction in the number of Palestinians identified as refugees and internationally recognized as having a “right of return” to their homeland.

These measures followed President Donald Trump’s declaring the contested city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in May. Israeli military violence against Palestinian demonstrators at the Gaza border escalated as American and Israeli officials celebrated the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. At least 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and more than 2,700 Palestinian demonstrators were injured, a number of casualties not seen since the 2014 conflict between the two sides.

Odeh watched these events unfold from Jordan, where she was deported to last September after a four-year immigration battle. “From Amman, it’s just three kilometers away [from Palestine,]” she said at the time. “I can’t do anything to help my people.” The killings reminded Odeh of the violence that uprooted her family from Palestine decades earlier. “This was my life and until now it’s the same. I don’t think it’s changed from that time until here. With time, [it’s] going worse and worse and worse.”

Not allowed to return to her homeland in the Palestinian territories, Odeh is pressing on in Jordan, and at age 71, working to rebuild a life in a country where she has no family and hasn’t lived in for decades.

“The idea that she, like three and a half million others, can’t go back home … is extremely frustrating and sad,” said Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill who was part of a movement for Black lives delegation that visited the occupied territories and wrote in Odeh’s support. “But it’s a reminder of what it means to be pushed out by two states. She represents the dislocation of the Palestinian refugee. She represents what it means to be on the wrong side of an apartheid legal system in Israel and in the United States.”

A life in exile

Odeh was just an infant the first time she was displaced. In 1948, her family left their village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, frightened by reports of Zionist attacks on Palestinians as the Israeli state was created. They thought they would return home in a few days when the threat passed, but they never did, and instead joined what would become one of the largest refugee populations in the world, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Colorlines for more

Comments are closed.