[Pnews] Rasmea and Oscar: Resisting the Criminalization of Freedom Fighting

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Aug 29 10:18:50 EDT 2017


  Rasmea and Oscar: Resisting the Criminalization of Freedom Fighting

by Diana Block - August 29, 2017

On May 18, 2017 Oscar López Rivera was welcomed  by a large and loving 
crowd in Chicago’s Paseo Boricua after 35 years of imprisonment for the 
“crime” of supporting Puerto Rican independence.  One of the people who 
greeted Oscar was Rasmea Yousef Odeh who will soon be punitively 
deported from her home in the United States for the “crime” of 
supporting Palestinian freedom.

In her greeting at the event, Rasmea stated “Oscar, I was released after 
10 years as a political prisoner in Palestine, two years before you 
started your sentence, and I know your story very well, because your 
life is an example to all of us.” 
<http://samidoun.net/2017/05/rasmea-odeh-addresses-homecoming-of-oscar-lopez-rivera-in-chicago-read-her-speech/> The 
image of Rasmea embracing Oscar and then gifting him with a red keffiyeh 
was shared by thousands around the world, an emotional testament to the 
common commitments of these two elder freedom fighters.  The moment’s 
potent symbolism highlighted the long arc of resistance by the Puerto 
Rican and Palestinian people against colonial control.  It also 
demonstrated how struggles to support freedom fighters can strengthen 
popular movements for self-determination and liberation.

When Oscar was arrested as a member of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de 
Liberación Nacional) <http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/faln.htm> in 
1981 and was then imprisoned for 35 years on the political charge of 
/seditious conspiracy, /he became part of a long line of 
/independentistas /who spent years in U.S. prisons because of their 
militant resistance to the U.S. conquest of Puerto Rico in 1898. 
Starting with Pedro Albizu Campos in the 1930’s who was imprisoned for 
the “crime” of /sedition/,the U.S. has consistently used surveillance, 
infiltration, and imprisonment as a major part of its arsenal to 
suppress the Puertan Rican movement.  Puerto Ricans were one of the 
first targets of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program 
dating back to the 1930’s, which was aimed at disrupting, undermining 
and criminalizing all political activism on the island and in the United 

One of the  major goals of the FALN in the 1970’s was to win the freedom 
of the five Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners who had been disappeared 
for  over two decades within U.S. prisons. The Nationalists 
had brought the demand for Puerto Rican independence to the U.S. 
mainland with attacks on Blair House in 1950 and the U.S Congress in 
1954.  In its very first action in 1974, the FALN demanded the release 
of the Five, noting that they were “the longest held political prisoners 
in the Western Hemisphere.”(communique Oct 1974) 
<http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/faln.htm>.  The FALN identification 
of the Nationalists as an integral part of the independence movement 
helped to spark a multi-pronged campaign that ultimately resulted in 
their release by then President Jimmy Carter in 1979. 

International law denounces colonialism as a crime and recognizes a 
colonized people’s right to end colonialism by any means at their 
disposal. But the resurgent Puerto Rican independence movement of the 
seventies and eighties  was met with a full battery of repressive 
tactics which resulted in the imprisonment of many /independentistas/*. 
*In the nineties, the fight to free this new generation of political 
prisoners once again became a leading focus of struggle, uniting a broad 
spectrum of Puerto Ricans across political tendencies.  In 1999 the 
struggle for the freedom of the prisoners converged with the fight 
against the U.S. Navy’s control over the Puerto Rican island of Vieques 
which it used as a site for its bloody war games.  Hundreds of thousands 
of people took to the streets of Puerto Rico in a series of 
demonstrations  demanding the return of Vieques and unconditional 
amnesty for the prisoners. On September 11, 1999 eleven of the Puerto 
Rican prisoners were released by Clinton 
and greeted as national heroes all over Puerto Rico and the U.S.

Oscar didn’t accept Clinton’s commutation because two other Puerto Rican 
prisoners were not included at the time.  After the others were 
released, Oscar and his supporters began a broad-based effort to win his 
freedom.  Refusing to accept the Federal Parole Board’s ruling in 2011 
that he serve 12-15 more years, his campaign gathered strength, winning 
impressively broad support,  including several members of Congress, 10 
Nobel Peace Prize winners, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Senator Bernie 
Sanders as well as a global coalition of human rights and religious, 
labor, and business leaders. Once again a campaign for the freedom of a 
political prisoner became a unifying force within the Puerto Rican 
movement.  The passage of /PROMESA /in June 2016 caused outrage among 
Puerto Ricans 
and fueled the mobilization for Oscar’s freedom. On January 17, 2017, 
Obama commuted Oscar’s sentence and on May 17, 2017 Oscar was released 
from house arrest in Puerto Rico.

Oscar’s designation  by the New York Puerto Rican Parade Committee as 
its first ever “National Freedom Hero” shortly after his release, became 
a flashpoint for controversy.  Corporate sponsors  and politicians 
withdrew support from the Parade, denouncing Oscar as a terrorist and 
condemning the Parade Committee. But  as Johanna Fernández and Carlito 
pointed out,  “On closer inspection, the outcry against the Puerto Rican 
Day Parade Committee and the defamation of Oscar Lopez are smokescreens 
for the real injustice—that Puerto Ricans are daily terrorized by 
systemic racism and poverty in the US mainland and colonial domination 
in their homeland. Consider, for example, the passage of the Puerto Rico 
Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) — a ploy 
recently imposed by Washington officials to assure the payment of a $73 
billion dollar debt, created not by Puerto Ricans but by the colonizers 

The corporate effort failed.  Oscar refused the hero designation but 
marched in the parade among tens of thousands as a “humble Puerto Rican 
and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise 
awareness about the fiscal, health-care and human-rights crisis Puerto 
Rico is facing at this historic juncture.” 
Besides continually advocating for Puerto Rican sovereignty since his 
release, Oscar has been outspoken in his declarations of solidarity with 
the Venezuelan revolution, as well as with Cuba, Nicargua and 
Palestine.   He has also continued to use every opportunity he can to 
oppose the criminalization of other freedom fighters by calling for the 
release of other U.S.-held political prisoners 
<http://www.thejerichomovement.com/> .

It was more than a coincidence that on the day Rasmea greeted Oscar in 
Chicago, Palestinian political prisoners were on the 31^st day of an 
open-ended hunger strike in Israeli jails. 
Rasmea made the connections clear when she explained, “Oscar, over six 
thousand Palestinians are political prisoners in Israeli jails because 
they fight for what you fight for, self-determination and an end to 
colonialism and full and complete independence.” 
In Palestine, where 40% of the male population has spent time in prison, 
the role of imprisonment as a weapon of repression is widely 
understood.  Political prisoners are consistently recognized for their 
leading role in the struggle which has been ongoing since Israel 
colonized Palestine in 1948, fifty years after the U.S. colonization of 
Puerto Rico, Rasmea’s history exemplifies the extent  to which Israel 
and the U.S. have worked closely together for decades to develop 
coordinated strategies of criminalization and imprisonment. Rasmea was 
tortured and raped in an Israeli prison for 45 days in 1969 
after she was accused of  two bombings which she denied doing.  When the 
Israelis arrested her father and threatened to make him have sex with 
her, Rasmea issued a coerced confession to the bombing that she 
repudiated afterwards.  She spent ten years in Israeli prisons before 
being released as part of a prisoner exchange in 1979.  Upon her release 
she testified about her physical and sexual torture at a UN special 
hearing in Geneva.

Rasmea emigrated to the U.S. and became a citizen in 2004.  She has been 
a leading organizer with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) of 
Chicago <http://www.aaan.org/>, coordinating its Arab Women’s Committee 
and continuing her active support for Palestinian freedom. Then in 2013, 
Rasmea was arrested on charges of immigration fraud,  a bogus pretext 
for persecuting a leading, effective Palestinian woman activist. 
   Rasmea was jailed, tried, and convicted. Her conviction was 
overturned on appeal because presiding Judge Drain had refused to allow 
an expert  to testify about the PTSD Rasmea suffered from as a result of 
her torture and rape. 
Rasmea was preparing for a second trial on the immigration charges when 
the U.S. government suddenly added new charges of belonging to a 
terrorist organization 
  to her indictment in December 2016.  In the extreme Trump 
administration right-wing  climate, Rasmea decided to accept a plea 
agreement that will mean deportation and loss of U.S. citizenship but 
avoids many years of possible prison time.

The campaign to win Justice4Rasmea <http://justice4rasmea.org> has 
mobilized widespread support  across the United States and in many other 
parts of the world.  As her defense committee has stated, “Through a 
massive, organized defense campaign, Rasmea Odeh — a long-time icon of 
the Palestine liberation movement — is now a name known in every corner 
of the movement for social justice in the U.S….This fight not only 
brought her story to the U.S. and the world, but also pushed forward the 
cause of the liberation of Palestine.” 

Rasmea’s prosecution has coincided with a growing Zionist offensive 
within the United States aimed at intimidating and stopping scholars, 
students and activists who support Palestinian freedom and the 
Palestinian-initiated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.  
Recently, Zionist groups have expanded their targets to a Bay Area 
community bakery started by a Palestinian woman activist, Reem Assil, 
because it features a striking mural of Rasmea  on its walls. 
<http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/US-Palestinian-Owned-Bakery-Attacked-for-Featuring-Palestinian-Revolutionary-20170719-0024.html> Since 
/Reem’s/  opened in early 2017, the bakery has been demonized on social 
media and Yelp, Zionist groups have held a protest rally in front of the 
restaurant, and Breitbart News has taken up the chorus of denunciations.

Reem has been clear about her reasons for commissioning the mural. “I 
put Rasmea up there because she is an emblem of resilience.  She reminds 
me that as an Arab woman, I should never be afraid to speak up against 
injustice, not matter what the consequence. “ 
  In response to the orchestrated attacks, the community has organized 
to defend Reem’s.   They recognize the attacks as part and parcel of the 
anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, white supremacist escalations occurring across 
the country since the Trump election.

While Zionist forces have tried to erase Rasmea’s image in an Oakland 
bakery, Judge Drain, who has presided over her case since its beginning, 
once again tried to silence Rasmea’s voice when she appeared for her 
final court hearing in Detroit on August 17, 2017.  He threatened to 
jail Rasmea for contempt of court as she attempted to read the final 
statement  she had prepared.  When she was forced to stop reading, she 
went ahead and ad-libbed, “I’m not a terrorist and my people are not 
terrorists. [The Israeli military] tortured me. They raped me. They 
destroyed my house…I will raise my voice to say this: we have the right 
to struggle for our country.” 

In her suppressed statement, Rasmea also made comparisons between the 
white supremacist violence in Charlottesville that occurred the weekend 
before and similar violent acts occurring against Palestinians in 
Israel. “Black-Palestinian unity and solidarity is at its absolute 
height in the U.S., because both peoples recognize that the racist 
nature of the U.S. government and the racist nature of Israel are the 
Rasmea has made it clear that wherever she creates her new home in the 
future, she will not be silent.

When Rasmea and Oscar reached out and hugged each other in Humboldt 
Park, they won a victory over the power of imprisonment, 
torture,erasure, and criminalization in a political climate where  
repressive power looms large. They affirmed that the love and defense of 
their homelands has persisted over generations despite decades of 
colonial control.  And they reminded us all of the inextricable 
connections between struggles and the necessity for international 
solidarity in the fight against imperialism and for liberation. As 
Rasmea remarked about the occasion, “I felt stronger than ever that I 
was part of the universal struggle to make changes in our countries and 
all over the world!”*

/*Diana Block* is the author of a novel, Clandestine Occupations – An 
Imaginary History (PM Press, 2015) and a memoir, Arm the Spirit – A 
Woman’s Journey Underground and Back (AK Press, 2009).  She is an active 
member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners 
<http://www.womenprisoners.org/>and the anti-prison coalition CURB. 
<http://www.curbprisonspending.org/>She is a member of the editorial 
collective of The Fire Inside newsletter 
<http://womenprisoners.org/?page_id=1061> and she writes periodically 
for various online journals./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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