The Dissenter

FBI Routinely Questions People, Like Business Owners, About Palestinian Activism in Chicago Community

Two FBI agents entered a small business run by a Palestinian American in the Chicago area last week and tried to ask him questions about two activists, who have been targets of the United States government.

The encounter was reported in a statement by United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR), which was formed to build support for twenty-three activists in the Midwest who had their homes raided by the FBI in late 2010.

Agents were interested in whatever information the small business owner had to share with them on Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab-American Action Network, and Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian and well-respected organizer in Chicago. Abudayyeh had his home raided in 2010. His bank account was frozen by the US Treasury and, when his assets were unfrozen, TCF Bank shut his account down. Odeh has been charged with lying to immigration authorities about her background when she applied for citizenship in the US and goes on trial in June.

“The person visited by the FBI last week refused to answer any questions about Abudayyeh or Odeh, and told the agents to call his attorney when they insisted on continuing their interrogation,” according to the statement by USPCN and CSFR.

Abudayyeh told Firedoglake, “More than anything, we know that this has been happening pretty constantly since the raids in 2010.”

“There have been dozens of cases of anecdotal evidence that says that law enforcement, the feds, have been visiting people in the community and asking people about activism,” he said. “Sometimes they ask about us and other times they just probe in general and ask about the activism of the community, what kind of activism is happening in community centers and the mosques and in Palestinian organizations.”

“A number of people in the last three and a half years,” he recalled, “have called us and told us they have been approached and questioned, photographed, shown pictures of activism and meetings and things like that. Again, intimidation, trying to make sure people know they know what we’re doing and they know about our organizing and activism.”

The community did not feel that there was anything particularly new about the FBI showing up to question this small business owner. It is well-known that the FBI has their informants and infiltrators out in mosques and community centers, however, they are in the process of building up support for Odea during her trial. It was important, Abuddayeh explained, to let the FBI know that this “scare tactic” would not work.

It also was critical to take the opportunity to ensure members of the community “know their rights.” “They need to know there are legal allies in the community who will support them and they need to know how to handle these situations,” Abudayyeh added.

According to Abudayyeh, the FBI was asking about Odeh weeks before her trial because they want information on “who is doing the defense work and the support work in the community.”

Odeh has an alleged past history of being involved in Palestinian resistance fighting against Israeli military occupation, which she denies. She came to the US after surviving torture and serving time in prison for her alleged involvement with a Palestinian group, which the US designated a terrorist organization. She was allowed into the country with no problem and activists in the Chicago community do not believe she lied on any forms. They think this charge against her is connected to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into local activists.

“Here is a woman, a longtime activist in the Palestinian community, who has been living in the United States for twenty years. She’s been a model citizen contributing and serving her community. And, suddenly, ten years after she received citizenship, they scrutinize her,” said Joe Iosbaker, one of the twenty-three activists who had their home raided.

The FBI “never would have looked at her at all had it not been for their investigation of the 23 antiwar activists, including Hatem Abudayyeh, who is her co-worker.”

Sixty-six organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, the American Friends Service Committee and the Muslim Defense Project of the National Lawyers Guild signed a statement, which noted that “over 75 cases of intimidation and legal bullying” had taken place over a span of one year.

“These include perceived surveillance, FBI contacts, and discriminatory enforcement of laws against advocates for Palestinian rights,” according to the groups who signed the statement. “Rasmea’s arrest and indictment must be viewed within this wider context of widespread attempts to intimidate people into silence on one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time.” And, “Rasmea’s indictment is also an illustration of increasingly draconian enforcement of immigration laws, which have left immigrant communities devastated at the hands of Obama’s Department of Homeland Security.”

This was another attempt by the FBI to “be public in their intimidation” and “try to frighten people away from activism,” Abuddayeh concluded. “That was the whole reason why they raided us in 2010. It’s the whole reason why they refuse to end [their] investigation, and it’s the reason why they are going after Rasmea as well.”

For more on the targeting of Midwest activists by the FBI, read, “Undercover FBI Agent Tried to Get Activists to Send Money to PFLP, a US-Designated Terrorist Organization.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."