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Kerning Cultures

The Assassination of Alex Odeh

Alex Odeh was well known in the Arab community in Santa Ana, California. He was often on TV or writing into newspapers, talking about discrimination against Arabs in the US or about his beloved homeland, Palestine. But on the morning of October 11th 1985, he stepped through his office door and a pipe bomb exploded. He died hours later. From the beginning, the FBI had strong leads and a list of suspects. But decades later, Alex Odeh’s murder is still unsolved.

This episode was produced by Alex Atack and edited by Dana Ballout. Fact checking by Deena Sabry and sound design by Mohamad Khreizat. Our team also includes Zeina Dowidar, Nadeen Shaker and Finbar Anderson.

You can read David Sheen’s story for The Intercept here.

Find a transcript for this episode at our website, kerningcultures.com/kerningcultures.

Support this podcast on patreon.com/kerningcultures for as little as $2 a month.


Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

Note: our transcripts are made with a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may not reflect the audio with 100% accuracy.

***

[STING]

DANA BALLOUT: Before we start, a warning: This episode contains graphic descriptions of violence from the beginning. It also contains clips of strongly racist language. If you’re listening around kids, or just don’t feel like hearing that, consider skipping this one. 

I’m Dana Ballout, this is Kerning Cultures.

ALEX ATACK: To start then, Helena, I guess if you could just introduce yourself, tell us your name and what you do, or however it is that you wanna be introduced for the purpose of the story.

HELENA ODEH: Helena Odeh, the oldest daughter for Alex Odeh… I don’t know. I don’t like these! Sorry guys.

DANA BALLOUT: A couple of months ago, producer Alex Atack and I called Helena at her home in Orange Country, California, to talk about her Dad, Alex Odeh.

HELENA ODEH: You know, he always was working a lot, so I always do remember, in the mornings he would like – I would get ready for school and he would come and say, ‘okay, have a good day, and I’ll see you tonight’. And it was always like, okay, big kisses to Dad and then couldn’t wait for him to get home.

DANA BALLOUT: She remembers how, on weekends he’d go out fishing, and sometimes he’d arrive home with something to cook for dinner… which would get mixed reviews in the Odeh household.

HELENA ODEH: My Mom would get us all ready, we would be all dressed and cute and he would say, ‘okay, we’re gonna go out to dinner’. I guess he told my Mom that. So she would get us all dressed up. We would be all dressed up and my Dad would come back from a fishing trip with this huge fish and expect her to like clean it. He’d forgot that he had said we’re going out or something – that he was gonna take us out, but he would bring this big fish home. And she was like, ‘but the kids are clean!’

And, he taught us how to swim – and actually he taught my middle sister and I how to swim my little sister, of course she didn’t get the opportunity to spend any time with him, really. She was just a, maybe a year old, a year and a half at the time.

DANA BALLOUT: On October 11th, 1985 at around 9am, Hugh Mooney, a lieutenant area commander at Santa Ana Police Department in southern California, was at his desk filling out paperwork, when his phone rang.

HUGH MOONEY: I got a call that a bombing had occurred on 17th street in my area. So I drove up there, the streets had been blocked off. There was debris scattered across 17th street, which is a four lane highway. I did enter the building, I think it was the second floor, and it was completely devastated. All the windows had been blown out, walls, knocked down, doors blown open, furniture and disarray. It was a significant explosion.

DANA BALLOUT: Inside the building was the regional office of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee – where Helena’s Dad Alex worked. He’d been the first to arrive at the office that morning. And as he turned the latch to unlock the front door, a trip wire detonated a pipe bomb on the other side. He died in hospital two hours later.

Alex Odeh was 41 years old, and left behind his wife and three young daughters. Seven other people were injured in the blast.

HUGH MOONEY: I was a cop for 37 years altogether and I’m a Vietnam combat veteran, so I’ve been to watch B-52 strikes or bombing runs and battles and machine gunfire and rockets and mortars and artillery and stuff. So I’ve seen lots of explosions.

ALEX ATACK: So you’d seen things on a similar scale before, but just not in America?

HUGH MOONEY: Yes. Yeah.

DANA BALLOUT: When he arrived, he had his officers tape off the area so that the sheriff’s department could start to gather evidence from what was left of the building. Meanwhile, as Hugh was setting up a command post on the other side of the street, he noticed this helicopter, landing in a field nearby.

HUGH MOONEY: And some guys in suits got out. Turned out to be FBI and LAPD terrorism task force. And they let us know that they’d been following the suspects all the way from New York out to California, and that they were responsible for some bombings back on the east coast. And that’s who they suspected had done this.

DANA BALLOUT: A couple of months earlier, a bomb had been left at the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee offices, Alex’s same organization, but in Boston. And the FBI suspected it might be the same people behind this bombing in California. It was a bomb at the same organisation, in two different locations.

ALEX ATACK: Did they tell you – did they give you names there and then? 

HUGH MOONEY: Yes, they did. The gave us the names of Manning and Green, I think, were the names they gave us at the time.

DANA BALLOUT: Robert Manning and Andy Green; American citizens in their 20s and 30s, who had been involved with far-right Zionist groups for years. They were religious fanatics, who already had criminal records both in the US and in Israel.

Manning had a reputation as a thug, and he’d been arrested a decade earlier for a bomb attack on a Palestinian accountant’s home. In that incident, the accountant wasn’t in, but the bomb nearly killed his two-year-old daughter.

Andy Green, the other guy Hugh just mentioned, he had been involved in the Zionist far-right movement since he was a teenager. Among his priors were two arrests in the 1970s for violent terrorist attacks on Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem.

There was another suspect, too: Keith Fuchs. And at the time, he’d only just been released from an Israeli prison for a brutal gun attack on a highway in Palestine.

But after Alex Odeh’s murder, none of these guys were arrested. At 7am the morning of the bombing, they got back on a plane from Los Angles airport and left, first to New York, then to settlements in occupied Palestine. Two of them are said to still live there today.

37 years later, nobody has been arrested in connection with the murder of Alex Odeh.

ALEX ATACK: You had these FBI agents coming to the scene on the day and they gave you an indication that they had suspects already. How did it go unsolved?

HUGH MOONEY: Uh – interesting question. It should not have. Clearly there was enough evidence to arrest them on that day.

DANA BALLOUT: In our episode today, the story of Alex Odeh: a Palestinian academic, poet, father and community leader. Our story is about his unsolved murder and oversight by law enforcement, when foreign policy objectives and political bias are more important than finding justice.

Here’s producer Alex Atack.

ALEX ATACK: Alex Odeh was born in 1944, in a village called Jifnah in Palestine.

HELENA ODEH: Which is like a little city over near Ramallah. From what my mom tells me, just a carefree kid, and grew up to love political science and education. He just wanted to learn and teach.

ALEX ATACK: Again, that’s his eldest daughter, Helena. In his early 20s, Alex left Palestine to study engineering at university in Cairo. But when he tried to go back home after the 1967 war, he was blocked from entering the country by the Israeli government. So instead, he moved to Amman.

HELENA ODEH: After being in Amman for a while, his sister Ellen, was like, well, why don’t you just come here? So that’s how it came about that he came to California.

ALEX ATACK: That was 1972. And when he arrived, he taught Arabic and Middle East history at a local community college, waiting tables at a restaurant on the side to make ends meet. 

Around this time, after the 1967 war, the American government had a very warm relationship with Israel.

Which in some ways led to a feeling of hostility against Arab Americans, or really anybody who was publicly pro-Palestine.

DARREL MEYERS: Oh, it was very pro Israel. It was very hard for any Arab let alone Palestinian, I think, to raise their voice very much. You never read anything in the paper that said something good.

ALEX ATACK: This is Revered Darrel Meyers – he’s a long time friend of Alex Odeh and an ally to the Arab community in California. He worked with Alex on a bunch of campaigns and community projects back in the 70s and 80s.

DARREL MEYERS: You could not say much about the word Palestinian. I remember even in some of the meetings that I had, you had to be very careful, especially with other people, what you were saying. Because Palestinians had gotten such a bad rap in our media.

ALEX ATACK: It wasn’t just in the media, either. Arab Americans and pro Palestine activists were being spied on by government agencies, too. This is Alex Odeh talking about it on a local TV station in California.

ALEX ODEH [ARCHIVE]: Great many of them have been under surveillance. Some of them have been visited by the FBI, and the FBI agents have questioned them on terrorism and PLO association. I’m sure there are so many cases that we don’t hear about because when someone has been harassed or questioned by the FBI, most likely he will be reluctant to talk about it.

ALEX ATACK: So in 1980, a group of influential Arab Americans got together and founded a group to try and push back against discrimination: it was called the ADC.

HELENA ODEH: ​​ADC, it’s the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. 

ALEX ATACK: Alex joined in 1982 and became West Coast regional director a year later. 

HELENA ODEH: ​​He didn’t like how people back then were treating Arabs. So his, by joining the ADC, he just wanted discrimination against Arabs to stop.

ALEX ATACK: He still had a day job as a professor of political science at a university in southern California. But he started devoting more and more time to the ADC – spending evenings and weekends writing newsletters and newspaper op-eds or helping Arabs in his community with things like language classes.

He became known locally for his regular media appearances, speaking out about the Palestinian cause. This is him speaking on a southern California radio show in the early 1980s.

ALEX ODEH [ARCHIVE]: Well the thing is, by calling the Palestinian leadership a bunch of murders, that’s not  a very kind words for people who are determined and fighting for the liberation of their homeland.

HELENA ODEH: Once he joined, that’s when he became more vocal in the community and everybody knew him. And my Dad was real social. Even to this day, I have people that come up to me and tell me, ‘oh, your Dad, he came to my store, he bought this. And your Dad’s favourite dessert was this and my parents used to have this dessert here’. The stories start coming in, then I get like a little sad because I’m like, wow, it seems like you guys knew my dad a little bit more than I did. Or you got to interact with him a little bit more than I did.

ALEX ATACK: While he was a teacher at Cal State university, he shared an apartment with his brother, Sami.

SAMI ODEH [ARCHIVE]: It was within the walls of that tiny apartment that I got to know Alex and his obsessions.

ALEX ATACK: This is Sami, speaking at Alex’s memorial service.

SAMI ODEH [ARCHIVE]: I discovered that my brother was obsessed with the love of his family, the love of his homeland, the love of his people and the love of his heritage. He was obsessed with moderation and the need for communication. And he was obsessed with optimism.

DARREL MEYERS: I didn’t know anybody who didn’t like Alex. He was, really a very outgoing guy without being oppressive, you know, without being bossy or anything of that sort. And I remember in the mornings sometimes I would get a phone call – ‘Darrel, this is Alex!’ He was always very, friendly in that way. And he was very loved in the community.

ALEX ATACK: One of his big picture missions in life was bringing together Jewish and Arab communities in the US. He would regularly speak at synagogues, he helped run a group called the Cousins Club – which was this dialogue group that brought together people from both communities together in California.

ALEX ATACK: Why was that so important to him?

DARREL MEYERS: Well, because I think for one thing it was often framed as Palestinian or Arab versus Jew. And he knew that there were many Jews who had lived in Palestine, who were not necessarily Zionists who wanted to see this happen to their Palestinian neighbors in that community.

ALEX ATACK: But there were people who were closely watching what he was doing, and didn’t like it. In the early 80s, he started to get death threats at his home almost every day.

HELENA ODEH: My parents were getting calls – threatening calls saying, you better watch out. We are coming for you. We’re gonna kill you. You’re gonna die. And my Dad always went to the police and filed a report, but they said it’s just a threat, there’s nothing they can do about it. And my Mom would tell him, ‘please, you have kids, think of the kids and think of us.’ And he would tell her, ‘listen, this is my country. This is what I believe. And I’m gonna believe and stand up for what I believe in.’

ALEX ATACK: The group that many suspect were behind those death threats was called the JDL: the Jewish Defence League. This is their founder, Meir Kahane, talking at a press conference in 1978 about taking over Palestinian land by force.

ARCHIVE: [Meir Kahane] There will be settlements, there will be the re-taking of Jewish property, and if Arabs attempt to stop us, there will be armed violence to protect Jewish rights and obligations.

ALEX ATACK: They were a violent far-right group, which sprung up in the US after the 1967 war.

ARCHIVE: [Meir Kahane] We cannot coexist with the Arabs, they are a danger to us, they must go.

ALEX ATACK: Just over a decade later, the JDL were responsible for 17 terrorist attacks in the United States, according to the FBI. The journalist David Sheen has followed them and the Kahanist movement for over a decade.

DAVID SHEEN: The Jewish Defense League had a policy: If there was any act of terrorism against Jews or any aggression against Israelis somewhere in the world, they would respond. They would take revenge times a million.

ARCHIVE: [Meir Kahane] The pain of a Jew must be your pain.

DAVID SHEEN: And so, several days before Alex Odeh’s assassination…

ARCHIVE: [Newsreader] Palestinian terrorists have hijacked an Italian cruiseliner in the Mediterranean, and are threatening to start executing American passengers.

DAVID SHEEN: A group of Palestinians took over a boat, a cruise liner.

ARCHIVE: [Newsreader] Officials here say at least seven men carried out the hijack, placing explosives around the ship.

ARCHIVE: [Newsreader] The Palestinian hijackers of the cruise ship are demanding the release of 50 Palestinians in Israel’s jails.

DAVID SHEEN: And they killed a Jewish man on board.

ARCHIVE: [Family of Leon Klinghoffer] We want to you to know that our father, Leon Klinghoffer was a devoted husband, a loving father, and a kind and generous friend to many people.

DAVID SHEEN: And so because of this act, this murder, the JDL decided, well, we are going to now murder an Arab American in response.

DARREL MEYERS: The night before, I happened to go to his office after getting off from my work at my church. And I needed some materials that I knew Alex had, that I could use for a study group or a class.

ALEX ATACK: This is Alex Odeh’s friend Darrel Meyers again.

DARREL MEYERS: And I get in there and the room is filled with cameras and recorders.

ALEX ATACK: They were there to get a statement from Alex about that cruise liner that had been hijacked in Europe. By now, this kind of thing was routine for him, and he told the news that he condemned the hijacking – and made it clear that, of course, he was against terrorism in general. “Violence breeds violence”, he said. Darrel got what he needed from the ADC office and left Alex to speak to the news cameras. 

DARREL MEYERS: He had just finished, I’m sure, a long day and a very trying day with the interviews from the media. I remember his trying to help give me what I needed that night, what I went there for. And I thanked him for it. And thought I would come back and see him another couple days from now.

HELENA ODEH: He kissed me goodbye for school and told me have a good day. And I knew something was wrong when nobody came to pick me up from school.

DARREL MEYERS: It was about mid-morning that morning of the 11th of October. And the phone in my office rings and – ‘Darrell, this is Zac.’ Zac Sidawi. ‘Our office has been hit and Alex is dead.’ And I don’t remember much more that he said. I was so stunned, as I’m sure he was to say it.

HELENA ODEH: The day of the funeral, I remember so many people. So many people and actually I can still, when I get asked these questions, I still hear my Mom just crying uncontrollably. She did not believe that my Dad was gone and it wasn’t until I saw the casket that I was like, I’ll never see my Dad again.

DARREL MEYERS: We had the funeral there at the Catholic church in town. And it was really a very moving event. One of the defining moments was when the head of the ethnic musicology centre at UCLA played something on the oud. And I remember that just sort of spoke the whole hour of what this was about. It was something that you feel deeply about because of the loss of this friend of so many of us, Alex, and a respected friend. But sometimes the music of the oud spoke things that the words could not express.

ALEX ATACK: In the days after Alex Odeh’s funeral, his death didn’t receive much attention in the media. And the head of the Jewish Defence League, came out with a statement.

DAVID SHEEN: Irv Rubin the head of the Jewish Defence League, spews his usual bile, telling the press: “No Jew or American should shed one tear for the destruction of a PLO front. The person or persons responsible for the bombing deserves our praise.” Saying, “I have no tears for Mr. Odeh. He got exactly what he deserves.” So of course that’s trying to take credit for it, essentially without saying something that makes him culpable legally.

ALEX ATACK: The founder of the JDL, Meir Kahane, was later questioned about the murder. Here he is at a press conference.

ARCHIVE:

[Meir Kahane] Be very, very careful when you say that JDL killed Odeh in –

[Interviewer] That’s what the FBI said.

[Meir Kahane] Excuse me, you said – 

[Interviewer] I got my information from the FBI.

[Meir Kahane] Just let me tell you something – that the FBI never said it because if the FBI said it, it would have been slapped with a multi-trillion dollar libel suit. It stated that it has reason to believe.

ALEX ATACK: He says it himself; The FBI did suspect people involved with the Jewish Defence League from the beginning. The three guys we mentioned earlier, Andy Green, Keith Fuchs and Robert Manning.

The FBI had been surveilling them even before Alex Odeh was killed, in connection with another bombing attempt at the ADC office in Boston months earlier. They’d followed the three men as they flew across the country from New York to Los Angeles, with a layover in Minnesota – flights Andy Green had paid for on his credit card.

And then at the scene, they found evidence to suggest that the Boston bombing and the Santa Ana bombing were carried out by the same people.

This is Santa Ana police lieutenant Hugh Mooney again.

HUGH MOONEY: They got pieces of the bomb and they got the bomb’s signature, which would be that the specific components of wire and other triggering devices. And the FBI matched those later to the bombings on the east coast. So it was the same signature. It was the same bomb maker using the same materials. So that was very significant. It was a direct collection connection to the east coast bombings.

ALEX ATACK: But by the next day, Fuchs and Manning were gone. They’d left Los Angeles on a regular commercial flight, back to New York.

ALEX ATACK: I wonder, like, in an ideal world, what should have happened in that investigation from day one that didn’t happen?

HUGH MOONEY: A warrant should have been issued, they should have been arrested when they were relocated in New York and they should have been charged and they were not.

ALEX ATACK: It sounds like it’s quite a simple, really, like it should have been quite a simple thing to do. It’s not like they left the country that day. Like they were still in America. 

HUGH MOONEY: Right, yeah. The the FBI – the terrorism anti-terrorism task force had two weeks when they could have gotten a warrant and search warrants and they could have arrested the individuals and they were not allowed to do that.

ALEX ATACK: What was stopping them from issuing that warrant and taking them into custody?

HUGH MOONEY: My understanding from what I was told by the New York police officer was that the US attorney said to wait and wouldn’t tell them why. Just said, wait. And they were convinced – they were experienced investigators – they were convinced they had enough evidence for a warrant, for an arrest warrant. They had no understanding of why. You know, clearly these people were implicated in three bombings and they should have been arrested and charged. There’s certainly enough evidence to tie them to it. But for some reason they weren’t. They returned to Israel.

ALEX ATACK: After the break: the suspects flee to Israel, and the fight to have them extradited back to the US begins.

[MIDROLL]

ALEX ATACK: Keith Fuchs and Andy Green left the US for Israel in 1986, and have lived there ever since.

The third suspect, Robert Manning, was extradited to the US in 1994 – but that was for a different murder. He’s serving a life sentence in a prison in Arizona.

The ADC have petitioned the US government for years to have Andy Green – who, by the way, goes by a different name now; Baruch Ben-Yosef – and Keith Fuchs extradited to the US to face charges, but it’s been an uphill battle.

In letters, friends of Alex Odeh and the ADC constantly barraged the FBI with letters, asking for updates. We got access to these letters in a freedom of information request. For years, the FBI would just give them the same boilerplate response – almost every letter a cut and paste: That the investigation is still underway, its being handled by their finest investigators. That they couldn’t give any more detail, but rest assured the FBI is making every effort to quote, “resolve this matter and bring this case to a prosecutable stage.”

Alex’s brother, Sami Odeh, had a habit of calling the FBI every week to try to find out more. This is him speaking to KPFK radio in 1986.

SAMI ODEH [ARCHIVE]: I’ve been talking at least once a week with the investigators, both at the Santa Ana police and the FBI about, where do we stand now today? And, I’m getting the same answer over and over: we’re still analysing and gathering data, we’re still analysing and gathering data. About a month ago they told me that they’re down to investigating names and they’re getting closer, but as you and I know so far, there’s no arrest and it doesn’t look like there’s an arrest imminent anytime in the near future. As far as my own personal satisfaction, or the family’s feeling on the subject, naturally we are somewhat disappointed because we feel that between the FBI and the Santa Ana police and the Orange [County] sheriff, they have enough resources to be a heck a lot closer to an arrest if not already have been done.

ALEX ATACK: But behind closed doors, the FBI were hitting road blocks. In 1987, the FBI’s assistant director sent a memo to one of his colleague complaining that when they shared information with Israeli intelligence, the Israelis were failing to act on it.

Hugh Mooney told me that about five years after the murder, he was at a meeting at the FBI’s office in Los Angeles. He said there were a couple of New York detectives there, as well as somebody from the state department.

HUGH MOONEY: And we were going over different items of how we could, you know, theories of how we could make an arrest or affect an arrest or bring new justice. And at that point we’d had no cooperation from the Israeli government and then the state department official said, you should just give this up. It’s bigger than your jurisdiction. It was indication that the state department was more powerful than the FBI and department of justice. And they were calling the shots and saying, no, you just leave it alone. It’s not going anywhere.

ALEX ATACK: Like don’t get in the way of the politics of it. 

HUGH MOONEY: Correct. It’s very frustrating. Because my job as a police officer is very clear; if you commit a crime, we investigate, you gather evidence, we arrest you and prosecute you. And suddenly there’s people, international terrorists, who are beyond prosecution for unknown reasons. And you know, it was none of our business. We wouldn’t understand. And it’s rather frustrating.

ALEX ATACK: Has it happened in other cases where you’ve had political intervention and you haven’t been able to move further with a case?

HUGH MOONEY: Not for me. No, it’s never happened before.

ALEX ATACK: So even though the FBI might have felt like they had solid evidence to at least make an arrest, and it was being reported in the media that Manning, Fuchs and Ben-Yosef slash Green were prime suspects, the Israelis were failing to cooperate.

The FBI even put out a reward of $1 million dollars for information on the case that would lead to an arrest.

There’s this moment, at a press conference over a decade after the bombing, in January 1998, when Israel’s Prime Minister at the time Benjamin Netanyahu is taking questions from the floor.

ARCHIVE: [1998 press conference with Benjamin Neyanyahu] 

[Interviewer] I’m sorry – Sam Husseini with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination committee. Sort of following up on [unclear] question.

ALEX ATACK: And somebody asks him – directly – about the Alex Odeh case.

[Interviewer] There is another case of Alex Odeh, who was murdered in California. He was the West Coast director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The two suspects in this case are apparently in either Israel or settlements of Israel, in Kiryat Arba. Will the government of Israel begin cooperating to seek justice in this case?

[Benjamin Neyanyahu] I’m not familiar with extradition requests concerning the murder of Alex Odeh, but I’m sure if those were brought before me I would look into them. Again, we have a problem for lack of an instrument, lack of a legal instrument. I assure you that our policy is to cooperate fully with the murderers. We don’t make a distinction, sir, between the murders of Arabs or Jews. Innocent blood is innocent blood, and that is our policy.

ALEX ATACK: He says their policy is to cooperate with American law enforcement, but up until today, that’s still not what Israel is doing. Over the years, the ADC has continued to lobby for this extradition and they’ve effectively been ignored.

According to David’s reporting, the US hasn’t indicted Baruch Ben-Yosef or Keith Fuchs because they claim they don’t have enough evidence. They told him they’d need a solid witness who can testify that either of men admitted to the murder. It’s really high bar to reach. And even if the FBI could get there, there’s the bigger obstacle of pro-Israel bias in American politics.

DAVID SHEEN: First of all its political, and political means political – look at the political situation. We have government after government in the United States that is so sycophantic to Israel. That no matter what it does, no matter what red line it crosses, no matter how much apartheid, how much ethnic cleansing, it’s just like, yes, please give us more, more, more of this.

ALEX ATACK: Irv Rubin – the ultra-Zionist leader of the Jewish Defense League – the one that made that statement the day after his murder – was arrested in 2001 for planning to blow up a mosque in LA. He died by suicide in prison a year later.

But when David came to this story, there wasn’t a lot of new reporting on what had happened to the two remaining suspects in the Alex Odeh case – Keith Fuchs and Baruch Ben-Yosef. So David started looking into it.

DAVID SHEEN: And I was like, okay, well what happened to these dudes? And so of course now we’re in the internet era, so I can search and find out what they’ve been up to for the last 35 odd years. And then I realised, contrary to my expectation, they were not hiding in some small town, somewhere doing some [jojaw] where no one would notice. They were firmly at the vanguard of the far right political activities all throughout, ever since.

ALEX ATACK: Baruch Ben-Yosef worked as a lawyer defending for various far-right Zionist causes. This is him speaking to the Associated Press in 2004 about the then Israeli prime minister’s plan to remove 17 Jewish settlements from Gaza.

ARCHIVE: [Baruch Ben-Yosef] The Prime Minister is a traitor, he has committed treason against the foundation of Zionism which is settlements, and his acts are treasonous and he should be put on trial and thrown into jail.

ALEX ATACK: In his Facebook profile picture, he’s standing in front of the Dome of the Rock in occupied East Jerusalem. He has a big beard and sunglasses. Two soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces are standing behind him. For years, he’s been part of a campaign to replace the dome of the rock – a Muslim holy site – with a Jewish temple. This is him talking about it in 2018.

ARCHIVE: [Baruch Ben-Yosef] How do we show our faith in [unclear]. How do we sanctify his name and show our faith? [Unclear], expelling the Arabs [unclear] removing the mosques from the Temple Mount. If you really believe in [unclear], that’s what you have to do.

ALEX ATACK: Today, he’s still living either in Israel, or in an Israeli settlement. The other guy, Keith Fuchs – the one who spent time in an Israeli jail in the 1970s for attacking a Palestinian’s car with an AK-47 – he has mostly kept a low profile.

DAVID SHEEN: It took me quite a while to find him. And in the end I was able to find him, I figured out where he lived and, and I came to his home and knocked on his door and spoke to him.

ALEX ATACK: Oh wow, you literally went and saw him face to face…

DAVID SHEEN: I saw him face to face because you know, it was important. No one had even knew exactly what he looks like. You know, I was able to corral from here and scrape from there a few photos where you see him in the background and his head is kind of cropped or he is wearing sunglasses, you know? So it was important for me, not only to tell the story and to hear his voice, but also to see his face, and know what he looks like and where he lives.

ALEX ATACK: So David drove to a settlement near Hebron called Kiryat Arba. It’s a place that’s notorious for being home to some of Israel’s most extreme Zionists.

DAVID SHEEN: Yeah, look, it’s scary as f***, and it’s especially scary, when you go into their home court, like when you go into a settlement, a small settlement in the hills and there’s no easy way to get out of where you are, you know?

ALEX ATACK: When he found what he thought was Fuchs’ house, he got out of his car, and knocked on the door.

DAVID SHEEN: I presented myself as; I’m considering moving to this settlement and becoming your neighbour. So can you tell me what it’s like to live here? And as a result, he began talking to me and telling me about the settlement and then I kind of transitioned, pivoted into, so what’s it like here politically? And then, straight off, he’s like, well, I’m a Kahane man myself. And then he goes to his bookshelf and pulls out the Kahane books that he personally designed the covers of. To get his response, I sent this question to him over the phone. I called him up later on and I said, Hi, it’s David Sheen, journalist. And I’m asking you to comment on my report coming out that you are, according to the FBI, the assassin of Alex Odeh. And he just said, you know, no, I don’t have any comment. And so that was his response.

ALEX ATACK: In the years after her husband’s murder, Helena’s Mum would go to an annual meeting with the FBI to discuss their progress on the case.

HELENA ODEH: And it was always the same thing. You know, they have no leads and there’s nothing that we found out. And I guess from what I’m being told now it was – they waited too long or they had suspects and they let them get away. And back then the forensics wasn’t as good as it is now. So it’s just – I think his case maybe just fell through the cracks. It’s still there. No progress.

ALEX ATACK: In private, the family struggled. They relied on his income, and the ADC helped where they could, but adjusting to life without their Dad was difficult.

HELENA ODEH: I mean, I think it forced me to grow up really fast, honestly. When we first lost our Dad like I said, my Mom really was distraught. She was very, very young  and then she had the three of us and we were 5, 7 and 1. And I think she didn’t know how to cope with it at first. Of course, there were a lot of people around her but I think I forced myself to become like the older sister, make sure that my sisters were taken care of. And because my one year old sister was so small, if my Mom wasn’t around, it was me.

And then my Mom had to learn how to be by herself and take care of us and not depend on my Dad. My Dad actually did a lot of the grocery shopping and bill paying and even the pumping gas into her car, he never let her do that. She would just say, you know, I have no gas, can you show me? He would tell her no, that’s for me to do. And he would go and make sure that her tank was always full.

It’s, I guess, a learning experience for all of us, but my Mom was amazing and she raised us and we’re all grown. And we still think about my Dad. And every year on his anniversary of his passing, my Mom will go and she goes throughout the year. I cannot. My sisters and I cannot go to his burial site unfortunately. That’s something I can’t do.

ALEX ATACK: In 1994, a statue was built outside the Santa Ana library in memory of Alex Odeh. It shows him wearing a keffiyeh draped over his shoulders, with a dove of peace in one hand and a book in the other. At an event to unveil the statue, Khalil Bendib, the artist who designed it, said that it had “been a cathartic experience, a way of coming to terms with our pain and tragic loss.”

But the harassment didn’t stop. Over the next three years, the statue was vandalised twice. Nobody was arrested in connection with that.

HELENA ODEH: The dove was broken off. It’s red paint, been thrown on it. It gets cleaned up, they’ll come back and do it again. They just have so much hate that they think vandalising the statue is okay. It’s not.

ALEX ATACK: I wondered, when you talk about your Dad – I wondered if you worry for your own safety?

HELENA ODEH: All the time. All the time. I’m afraid that somebody’s not gonna like what I say. And if I say something wrong that they’re gonna come after me or my family.

ALEX ATACK: When I asked retired Lietenant Hugh Mooney if he thinks anybody will ever face justice for Alex Odeh’s murder, he wasn’t hopeful.

HUGH MOONEY: Will justice ever be done? No, you know, there’ll never be a prosecution in my opinion. The suspects or the perpetrators will die of old age.

ALEX ATACK: But his legacy isn’t forgotten. Every year, the ADC still hold an annual banquet in honour of him. And last year, Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Talib paid tribute to Alex on the congress floor.

ARCHIVE [Rashida Talib]: Arab-Americans, and Palestinian-Americans are still here. Speaking loud and proud and speaking truth to power and carrying on Alex’s fight in his memory. Our politics of love are the only response. Those who support oppressive policies in Palestine, that murdered Alex and those who continue to fearmonger and whip up hate against us to this day will not win. We will never give up, Alex. I am proud to be here because of you. Thank you, and I yield back.

ALEX ATACK: At home, the Odeh family remember their husband, father and now grandfather in small ways; the pictures around the house, or picking berries from the same bush they used to when they were kids, or in making his favourite dinner, every year around his birthday.

HELENA ODEH: We call it molokhia – thats the kids favourite food. We go through the hassle of picking each one of those leaves every year around this time, just for them. So yeah, we do that. And his dessert – it’s filo pasty with a cream custard on the inside, then you bake it so that its crispy and pour a simple syrup on top of it. This one is called warbat. So when I do that, that kind of reminds me of my Dad.

DANA BALLOUT: This episode was produced by Alex Atack and edited by me, Dana Ballout. Fact checking by Deena Sabry and sound design and mixing by Mohamad Khreizat. Our team also includes Zeina Dowidar, Nadeen Shaker and Finbar Anderson.

ALEX ATACK: Thank you to Helena Odeh for sharing her family’s story with us, and to David Sheen for all of his incredible reporting. You can find him at davidsheen.com – and I do recommend reading his deep dive for The Intercept, its called ‘Decades after a Palestinian American activist was assassinated in California, two suspects in his killing are living openly in Israel.’

Thanks also to Revered Darell Meyers and Hugh Mooney for speaking to me for the episode, and to Will Youmans at the Arab American TV archive for his help sourcing archival material.

For more on Alex Odeh and for updates in the ongoing search for justice, you can read the work of journalist Gabriel San Roman at the LA Times. He’s been covering this story for years.

DANA BALLOUT: Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back next week. Take care.

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Note: our transcripts are made with a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may not reflect the audio with 100% accuracy.

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DANA BALLOUT: Before we start, a warning: This episode contains graphic descriptions of violence from the beginning. It also contains clips of strongly racist language. If you’re listening around kids, or just don’t feel like hearing that, consider skipping this one. 

I’m Dana Ballout, this is Kerning Cultures.

ALEX ATACK: To start then, Helena, I guess if you could just introduce yourself, tell us your name and what you do, or however it is that you wanna be introduced for the purpose of the story.

HELENA ODEH: Helena Odeh, the oldest daughter for Alex Odeh… I don’t know. I don’t like these! Sorry guys.

DANA BALLOUT: A couple of months ago, producer Alex Atack and I called Helena at her home in Orange Country, California, to talk about her Dad, Alex Odeh.

HELENA ODEH: You know, he always was working a lot, so I always do remember, in the mornings he would like – I would get ready for school and he would come and say, ‘okay, have a good day, and I’ll see you tonight’. And it was always like, okay, big kisses to Dad and then couldn’t wait for him to get home.

DANA BALLOUT: She remembers how, on weekends he’d go out fishing, and sometimes he’d arrive home with something to cook for dinner… which would get mixed reviews in the Odeh household.

HELENA ODEH: My Mom would get us all ready, we would be all dressed and cute and he would say, ‘okay, we’re gonna go out to dinner’. I guess he told my Mom that. So she would get us all dressed up. We would be all dressed up and my Dad would come back from a fishing trip with this huge fish and expect her to like clean it. He’d forgot that he had said we’re going out or something – that he was gonna take us out, but he would bring this big fish home. And she was like, ‘but the kids are clean!’

And, he taught us how to swim – and actually he taught my middle sister and I how to swim my little sister, of course she didn’t get the opportunity to spend any time with him, really. She was just a, maybe a year old, a year and a half at the time.

DANA BALLOUT: On October 11th, 1985 at around 9am, Hugh Mooney, a lieutenant area commander at Santa Ana Police Department in southern California, was at his desk filling out paperwork, when his phone rang.

HUGH MOONEY: I got a call that a bombing had occurred on 17th street in my area. So I drove up there, the streets had been blocked off. There was debris scattered across 17th street, which is a four lane highway. I did enter the building, I think it was the second floor, and it was completely devastated. All the windows had been blown out, walls, knocked down, doors blown open, furniture and disarray. It was a significant explosion.

DANA BALLOUT: Inside the building was the regional office of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee – where Helena’s Dad Alex worked. He’d been the first to arrive at the office that morning. And as he turned the latch to unlock the front door, a trip wire detonated a pipe bomb on the other side. He died in hospital two hours later.

Alex Odeh was 41 years old, and left behind his wife and three young daughters. Seven other people were injured in the blast.

HUGH MOONEY: I was a cop for 37 years altogether and I’m a Vietnam combat veteran, so I’ve been to watch B-52 strikes or bombing runs and battles and machine gunfire and rockets and mortars and artillery and stuff. So I’ve seen lots of explosions.

ALEX ATACK: So you’d seen things on a similar scale before, but just not in America?

HUGH MOONEY: Yes. Yeah.

DANA BALLOUT: When he arrived, he had his officers tape off the area so that the sheriff’s department could start to gather evidence from what was left of the building. Meanwhile, as Hugh was setting up a command post on the other side of the street, he noticed this helicopter, landing in a field nearby.

HUGH MOONEY: And some guys in suits got out. Turned out to be FBI and LAPD terrorism task force. And they let us know that they’d been following the suspects all the way from New York out to California, and that they were responsible for some bombings back on the east coast. And that’s who they suspected had done this.

DANA BALLOUT: A couple of months earlier, a bomb had been left at the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee offices, Alex’s same organization, but in Boston. And the FBI suspected it might be the same people behind this bombing in California. It was a bomb at the same organisation, in two different locations.

ALEX ATACK: Did they tell you – did they give you names there and then? 

HUGH MOONEY: Yes, they did. The gave us the names of Manning and Green, I think, were the names they gave us at the time.

DANA BALLOUT: Robert Manning and Andy Green; American citizens in their 20s and 30s, who had been involved with far-right Zionist groups for years. They were religious fanatics, who already had criminal records both in the US and in Israel.

Manning had a reputation as a thug, and he’d been arrested a decade earlier for a bomb attack on a Palestinian accountant’s home. In that incident, the accountant wasn’t in, but the bomb nearly killed his two-year-old daughter.

Andy Green, the other guy Hugh just mentioned, he had been involved in the Zionist far-right movement since he was a teenager. Among his priors were two arrests in the 1970s for violent terrorist attacks on Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem.

There was another suspect, too: Keith Fuchs. And at the time, he’d only just been released from an Israeli prison for a brutal gun attack on a highway in Palestine.

But after Alex Odeh’s murder, none of these guys were arrested. At 7am the morning of the bombing, they got back on a plane from Los Angles airport and left, first to New York, then to settlements in occupied Palestine. Two of them are said to still live there today.

37 years later, nobody has been arrested in connection with the murder of Alex Odeh.

ALEX ATACK: You had these FBI agents coming to the scene on the day and they gave you an indication that they had suspects already. How did it go unsolved?

HUGH MOONEY: Uh – interesting question. It should not have. Clearly there was enough evidence to arrest them on that day.

DANA BALLOUT: In our episode today, the story of Alex Odeh: a Palestinian academic, poet, father and community leader. Our story is about his unsolved murder and oversight by law enforcement, when foreign policy objectives and political bias are more important than finding justice.

Here’s producer Alex Atack.

ALEX ATACK: Alex Odeh was born in 1944, in a village called Jifnah in Palestine.

HELENA ODEH: Which is like a little city over near Ramallah. From what my mom tells me, just a carefree kid, and grew up to love political science and education. He just wanted to learn and teach.

ALEX ATACK: Again, that’s his eldest daughter, Helena. In his early 20s, Alex left Palestine to study engineering at university in Cairo. But when he tried to go back home after the 1967 war, he was blocked from entering the country by the Israeli government. So instead, he moved to Amman.

HELENA ODEH: After being in Amman for a while, his sister Ellen, was like, well, why don’t you just come here? So that’s how it came about that he came to California.

ALEX ATACK: That was 1972. And when he arrived, he taught Arabic and Middle East history at a local community college, waiting tables at a restaurant on the side to make ends meet. 

Around this time, after the 1967 war, the American government had a very warm relationship with Israel.

Which in some ways led to a feeling of hostility against Arab Americans, or really anybody who was publicly pro-Palestine.

DARREL MEYERS: Oh, it was very pro Israel. It was very hard for any Arab let alone Palestinian, I think, to raise their voice very much. You never read anything in the paper that said something good.

ALEX ATACK: This is Revered Darrel Meyers – he’s a long time friend of Alex Odeh and an ally to the Arab community in California. He worked with Alex on a bunch of campaigns and community projects back in the 70s and 80s.

DARREL MEYERS: You could not say much about the word Palestinian. I remember even in some of the meetings that I had, you had to be very careful, especially with other people, what you were saying. Because Palestinians had gotten such a bad rap in our media.

ALEX ATACK: It wasn’t just in the media, either. Arab Americans and pro Palestine activists were being spied on by government agencies, too. This is Alex Odeh talking about it on a local TV station in California.

ALEX ODEH [ARCHIVE]: Great many of them have been under surveillance. Some of them have been visited by the FBI, and the FBI agents have questioned them on terrorism and PLO association. I’m sure there are so many cases that we don’t hear about because when someone has been harassed or questioned by the FBI, most likely he will be reluctant to talk about it.

ALEX ATACK: So in 1980, a group of influential Arab Americans got together and founded a group to try and push back against discrimination: it was called the ADC.

HELENA ODEH: ​​ADC, it’s the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. 

ALEX ATACK: Alex joined in 1982 and became West Coast regional director a year later. 

HELENA ODEH: ​​He didn’t like how people back then were treating Arabs. So his, by joining the ADC, he just wanted discrimination against Arabs to stop.

ALEX ATACK: He still had a day job as a professor of political science at a university in southern California. But he started devoting more and more time to the ADC – spending evenings and weekends writing newsletters and newspaper op-eds or helping Arabs in his community with things like language classes.

He became known locally for his regular media appearances, speaking out about the Palestinian cause. This is him speaking on a southern California radio show in the early 1980s.

ALEX ODEH [ARCHIVE]: Well the thing is, by calling the Palestinian leadership a bunch of murders, that’s not  a very kind words for people who are determined and fighting for the liberation of their homeland.

HELENA ODEH: Once he joined, that’s when he became more vocal in the community and everybody knew him. And my Dad was real social. Even to this day, I have people that come up to me and tell me, ‘oh, your Dad, he came to my store, he bought this. And your Dad’s favourite dessert was this and my parents used to have this dessert here’. The stories start coming in, then I get like a little sad because I’m like, wow, it seems like you guys knew my dad a little bit more than I did. Or you got to interact with him a little bit more than I did.

ALEX ATACK: While he was a teacher at Cal State university, he shared an apartment with his brother, Sami.

SAMI ODEH [ARCHIVE]: It was within the walls of that tiny apartment that I got to know Alex and his obsessions.

ALEX ATACK: This is Sami, speaking at Alex’s memorial service.

SAMI ODEH [ARCHIVE]: I discovered that my brother was obsessed with the love of his family, the love of his homeland, the love of his people and the love of his heritage. He was obsessed with moderation and the need for communication. And he was obsessed with optimism.

DARREL MEYERS: I didn’t know anybody who didn’t like Alex. He was, really a very outgoing guy without being oppressive, you know, without being bossy or anything of that sort. And I remember in the mornings sometimes I would get a phone call – ‘Darrel, this is Alex!’ He was always very, friendly in that way. And he was very loved in the community.

ALEX ATACK: One of his big picture missions in life was bringing together Jewish and Arab communities in the US. He would regularly speak at synagogues, he helped run a group called the Cousins Club – which was this dialogue group that brought together people from both communities together in California.

ALEX ATACK: Why was that so important to him?

DARREL MEYERS: Well, because I think for one thing it was often framed as Palestinian or Arab versus Jew. And he knew that there were many Jews who had lived in Palestine, who were not necessarily Zionists who wanted to see this happen to their Palestinian neighbors in that community.

ALEX ATACK: But there were people who were closely watching what he was doing, and didn’t like it. In the early 80s, he started to get death threats at his home almost every day.

HELENA ODEH: My parents were getting calls – threatening calls saying, you better watch out. We are coming for you. We’re gonna kill you. You’re gonna die. And my Dad always went to the police and filed a report, but they said it’s just a threat, there’s nothing they can do about it. And my Mom would tell him, ‘please, you have kids, think of the kids and think of us.’ And he would tell her, ‘listen, this is my country. This is what I believe. And I’m gonna believe and stand up for what I believe in.’

ALEX ATACK: The group that many suspect were behind those death threats was called the JDL: the Jewish Defence League. This is their founder, Meir Kahane, talking at a press conference in 1978 about taking over Palestinian land by force.

ARCHIVE: [Meir Kahane] There will be settlements, there will be the re-taking of Jewish property, and if Arabs attempt to stop us, there will be armed violence to protect Jewish rights and obligations.

ALEX ATACK: They were a violent far-right group, which sprung up in the US after the 1967 war.

ARCHIVE: [Meir Kahane] We cannot coexist with the Arabs, they are a danger to us, they must go.

ALEX ATACK: Just over a decade later, the JDL were responsible for 17 terrorist attacks in the United States, according to the FBI. The journalist David Sheen has followed them and the Kahanist movement for over a decade.

DAVID SHEEN: The Jewish Defense League had a policy: If there was any act of terrorism against Jews or any aggression against Israelis somewhere in the world, they would respond. They would take revenge times a million.

ARCHIVE: [Meir Kahane] The pain of a Jew must be your pain.

DAVID SHEEN: And so, several days before Alex Odeh’s assassination…

ARCHIVE: [Newsreader] Palestinian terrorists have hijacked an Italian cruiseliner in the Mediterranean, and are threatening to start executing American passengers.

DAVID SHEEN: A group of Palestinians took over a boat, a cruise liner.

ARCHIVE: [Newsreader] Officials here say at least seven men carried out the hijack, placing explosives around the ship.

ARCHIVE: [Newsreader] The Palestinian hijackers of the cruise ship are demanding the release of 50 Palestinians in Israel’s jails.

DAVID SHEEN: And they killed a Jewish man on board.

ARCHIVE: [Family of Leon Klinghoffer] We want to you to know that our father, Leon Klinghoffer was a devoted husband, a loving father, and a kind and generous friend to many people.

DAVID SHEEN: And so because of this act, this murder, the JDL decided, well, we are going to now murder an Arab American in response.

DARREL MEYERS: The night before, I happened to go to his office after getting off from my work at my church. And I needed some materials that I knew Alex had, that I could use for a study group or a class.

ALEX ATACK: This is Alex Odeh’s friend Darrel Meyers again.

DARREL MEYERS: And I get in there and the room is filled with cameras and recorders.

ALEX ATACK: They were there to get a statement from Alex about that cruise liner that had been hijacked in Europe. By now, this kind of thing was routine for him, and he told the news that he condemned the hijacking – and made it clear that, of course, he was against terrorism in general. “Violence breeds violence”, he said. Darrel got what he needed from the ADC office and left Alex to speak to the news cameras. 

DARREL MEYERS: He had just finished, I’m sure, a long day and a very trying day with the interviews from the media. I remember his trying to help give me what I needed that night, what I went there for. And I thanked him for it. And thought I would come back and see him another couple days from now.

HELENA ODEH: He kissed me goodbye for school and told me have a good day. And I knew something was wrong when nobody came to pick me up from school.

DARREL MEYERS: It was about mid-morning that morning of the 11th of October. And the phone in my office rings and – ‘Darrell, this is Zac.’ Zac Sidawi. ‘Our office has been hit and Alex is dead.’ And I don’t remember much more that he said. I was so stunned, as I’m sure he was to say it.

HELENA ODEH: The day of the funeral, I remember so many people. So many people and actually I can still, when I get asked these questions, I still hear my Mom just crying uncontrollably. She did not believe that my Dad was gone and it wasn’t until I saw the casket that I was like, I’ll never see my Dad again.

DARREL MEYERS: We had the funeral there at the Catholic church in town. And it was really a very moving event. One of the defining moments was when the head of the ethnic musicology centre at UCLA played something on the oud. And I remember that just sort of spoke the whole hour of what this was about. It was something that you feel deeply about because of the loss of this friend of so many of us, Alex, and a respected friend. But sometimes the music of the oud spoke things that the words could not express.

ALEX ATACK: In the days after Alex Odeh’s funeral, his death didn’t receive much attention in the media. And the head of the Jewish Defence League, came out with a statement.

DAVID SHEEN: Irv Rubin the head of the Jewish Defence League, spews his usual bile, telling the press: “No Jew or American should shed one tear for the destruction of a PLO front. The person or persons responsible for the bombing deserves our praise.” Saying, “I have no tears for Mr. Odeh. He got exactly what he deserves.” So of course that’s trying to take credit for it, essentially without saying something that makes him culpable legally.

ALEX ATACK: The founder of the JDL, Meir Kahane, was later questioned about the murder. Here he is at a press conference.

ARCHIVE:

[Meir Kahane] Be very, very careful when you say that JDL killed Odeh in –

[Interviewer] That’s what the FBI said.

[Meir Kahane] Excuse me, you said – 

[Interviewer] I got my information from the FBI.

[Meir Kahane] Just let me tell you something – that the FBI never said it because if the FBI said it, it would have been slapped with a multi-trillion dollar libel suit. It stated that it has reason to believe.

ALEX ATACK: He says it himself; The FBI did suspect people involved with the Jewish Defence League from the beginning. The three guys we mentioned earlier, Andy Green, Keith Fuchs and Robert Manning.

The FBI had been surveilling them even before Alex Odeh was killed, in connection with another bombing attempt at the ADC office in Boston months earlier. They’d followed the three men as they flew across the country from New York to Los Angeles, with a layover in Minnesota – flights Andy Green had paid for on his credit card.

And then at the scene, they found evidence to suggest that the Boston bombing and the Santa Ana bombing were carried out by the same people.

This is Santa Ana police lieutenant Hugh Mooney again.

HUGH MOONEY: They got pieces of the bomb and they got the bomb’s signature, which would be that the specific components of wire and other triggering devices. And the FBI matched those later to the bombings on the east coast. So it was the same signature. It was the same bomb maker using the same materials. So that was very significant. It was a direct collection connection to the east coast bombings.

ALEX ATACK: But by the next day, Fuchs and Manning were gone. They’d left Los Angeles on a regular commercial flight, back to New York.

ALEX ATACK: I wonder, like, in an ideal world, what should have happened in that investigation from day one that didn’t happen?

HUGH MOONEY: A warrant should have been issued, they should have been arrested when they were relocated in New York and they should have been charged and they were not.

ALEX ATACK: It sounds like it’s quite a simple, really, like it should have been quite a simple thing to do. It’s not like they left the country that day. Like they were still in America. 

HUGH MOONEY: Right, yeah. The the FBI – the terrorism anti-terrorism task force had two weeks when they could have gotten a warrant and search warrants and they could have arrested the individuals and they were not allowed to do that.

ALEX ATACK: What was stopping them from issuing that warrant and taking them into custody?

HUGH MOONEY: My understanding from what I was told by the New York police officer was that the US attorney said to wait and wouldn’t tell them why. Just said, wait. And they were convinced – they were experienced investigators – they were convinced they had enough evidence for a warrant, for an arrest warrant. They had no understanding of why. You know, clearly these people were implicated in three bombings and they should have been arrested and charged. There’s certainly enough evidence to tie them to it. But for some reason they weren’t. They returned to Israel.

ALEX ATACK: After the break: the suspects flee to Israel, and the fight to have them extradited back to the US begins.

[MIDROLL]

ALEX ATACK: Keith Fuchs and Andy Green left the US for Israel in 1986, and have lived there ever since.

The third suspect, Robert Manning, was extradited to the US in 1994 – but that was for a different murder. He’s serving a life sentence in a prison in Arizona.

The ADC have petitioned the US government for years to have Andy Green – who, by the way, goes by a different name now; Baruch Ben-Yosef – and Keith Fuchs extradited to the US to face charges, but it’s been an uphill battle.

In letters, friends of Alex Odeh and the ADC constantly barraged the FBI with letters, asking for updates. We got access to these letters in a freedom of information request. For years, the FBI would just give them the same boilerplate response – almost every letter a cut and paste: That the investigation is still underway, its being handled by their finest investigators. That they couldn’t give any more detail, but rest assured the FBI is making every effort to quote, “resolve this matter and bring this case to a prosecutable stage.”

Alex’s brother, Sami Odeh, had a habit of calling the FBI every week to try to find out more. This is him speaking to KPFK radio in 1986.

SAMI ODEH [ARCHIVE]: I’ve been talking at least once a week with the investigators, both at the Santa Ana police and the FBI about, where do we stand now today? And, I’m getting the same answer over and over: we’re still analysing and gathering data, we’re still analysing and gathering data. About a month ago they told me that they’re down to investigating names and they’re getting closer, but as you and I know so far, there’s no arrest and it doesn’t look like there’s an arrest imminent anytime in the near future. As far as my own personal satisfaction, or the family’s feeling on the subject, naturally we are somewhat disappointed because we feel that between the FBI and the Santa Ana police and the Orange [County] sheriff, they have enough resources to be a heck a lot closer to an arrest if not already have been done.

ALEX ATACK: But behind closed doors, the FBI were hitting road blocks. In 1987, the FBI’s assistant director sent a memo to one of his colleague complaining that when they shared information with Israeli intelligence, the Israelis were failing to act on it.

Hugh Mooney told me that about five years after the murder, he was at a meeting at the FBI’s office in Los Angeles. He said there were a couple of New York detectives there, as well as somebody from the state department.

HUGH MOONEY: And we were going over different items of how we could, you know, theories of how we could make an arrest or affect an arrest or bring new justice. And at that point we’d had no cooperation from the Israeli government and then the state department official said, you should just give this up. It’s bigger than your jurisdiction. It was indication that the state department was more powerful than the FBI and department of justice. And they were calling the shots and saying, no, you just leave it alone. It’s not going anywhere.

ALEX ATACK: Like don’t get in the way of the politics of it. 

HUGH MOONEY: Correct. It’s very frustrating. Because my job as a police officer is very clear; if you commit a crime, we investigate, you gather evidence, we arrest you and prosecute you. And suddenly there’s people, international terrorists, who are beyond prosecution for unknown reasons. And you know, it was none of our business. We wouldn’t understand. And it’s rather frustrating.

ALEX ATACK: Has it happened in other cases where you’ve had political intervention and you haven’t been able to move further with a case?

HUGH MOONEY: Not for me. No, it’s never happened before.

ALEX ATACK: So even though the FBI might have felt like they had solid evidence to at least make an arrest, and it was being reported in the media that Manning, Fuchs and Ben-Yosef slash Green were prime suspects, the Israelis were failing to cooperate.

The FBI even put out a reward of $1 million dollars for information on the case that would lead to an arrest.

There’s this moment, at a press conference over a decade after the bombing, in January 1998, when Israel’s Prime Minister at the time Benjamin Netanyahu is taking questions from the floor.

ARCHIVE: [1998 press conference with Benjamin Neyanyahu] 

[Interviewer] I’m sorry – Sam Husseini with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination committee. Sort of following up on [unclear] question.

ALEX ATACK: And somebody asks him – directly – about the Alex Odeh case.

[Interviewer] There is another case of Alex Odeh, who was murdered in California. He was the West Coast director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The two suspects in this case are apparently in either Israel or settlements of Israel, in Kiryat Arba. Will the government of Israel begin cooperating to seek justice in this case?

[Benjamin Neyanyahu] I’m not familiar with extradition requests concerning the murder of Alex Odeh, but I’m sure if those were brought before me I would look into them. Again, we have a problem for lack of an instrument, lack of a legal instrument. I assure you that our policy is to cooperate fully with the murderers. We don’t make a distinction, sir, between the murders of Arabs or Jews. Innocent blood is innocent blood, and that is our policy.

ALEX ATACK: He says their policy is to cooperate with American law enforcement, but up until today, that’s still not what Israel is doing. Over the years, the ADC has continued to lobby for this extradition and they’ve effectively been ignored.

According to David’s reporting, the US hasn’t indicted Baruch Ben-Yosef or Keith Fuchs because they claim they don’t have enough evidence. They told him they’d need a solid witness who can testify that either of men admitted to the murder. It’s really high bar to reach. And even if the FBI could get there, there’s the bigger obstacle of pro-Israel bias in American politics.

DAVID SHEEN: First of all its political, and political means political – look at the political situation. We have government after government in the United States that is so sycophantic to Israel. That no matter what it does, no matter what red line it crosses, no matter how much apartheid, how much ethnic cleansing, it’s just like, yes, please give us more, more, more of this.

ALEX ATACK: Irv Rubin – the ultra-Zionist leader of the Jewish Defense League – the one that made that statement the day after his murder – was arrested in 2001 for planning to blow up a mosque in LA. He died by suicide in prison a year later.

But when David came to this story, there wasn’t a lot of new reporting on what had happened to the two remaining suspects in the Alex Odeh case – Keith Fuchs and Baruch Ben-Yosef. So David started looking into it.

DAVID SHEEN: And I was like, okay, well what happened to these dudes? And so of course now we’re in the internet era, so I can search and find out what they’ve been up to for the last 35 odd years. And then I realised, contrary to my expectation, they were not hiding in some small town, somewhere doing some [jojaw] where no one would notice. They were firmly at the vanguard of the far right political activities all throughout, ever since.

ALEX ATACK: Baruch Ben-Yosef worked as a lawyer defending for various far-right Zionist causes. This is him speaking to the Associated Press in 2004 about the then Israeli prime minister’s plan to remove 17 Jewish settlements from Gaza.

ARCHIVE: [Baruch Ben-Yosef] The Prime Minister is a traitor, he has committed treason against the foundation of Zionism which is settlements, and his acts are treasonous and he should be put on trial and thrown into jail.

ALEX ATACK: In his Facebook profile picture, he’s standing in front of the Dome of the Rock in occupied East Jerusalem. He has a big beard and sunglasses. Two soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces are standing behind him. For years, he’s been part of a campaign to replace the dome of the rock – a Muslim holy site – with a Jewish temple. This is him talking about it in 2018.

ARCHIVE: [Baruch Ben-Yosef] How do we show our faith in [unclear]. How do we sanctify his name and show our faith? [Unclear], expelling the Arabs [unclear] removing the mosques from the Temple Mount. If you really believe in [unclear], that’s what you have to do.

ALEX ATACK: Today, he’s still living either in Israel, or in an Israeli settlement. The other guy, Keith Fuchs – the one who spent time in an Israeli jail in the 1970s for attacking a Palestinian’s car with an AK-47 – he has mostly kept a low profile.

DAVID SHEEN: It took me quite a while to find him. And in the end I was able to find him, I figured out where he lived and, and I came to his home and knocked on his door and spoke to him.

ALEX ATACK: Oh wow, you literally went and saw him face to face…

DAVID SHEEN: I saw him face to face because you know, it was important. No one had even knew exactly what he looks like. You know, I was able to corral from here and scrape from there a few photos where you see him in the background and his head is kind of cropped or he is wearing sunglasses, you know? So it was important for me, not only to tell the story and to hear his voice, but also to see his face, and know what he looks like and where he lives.

ALEX ATACK: So David drove to a settlement near Hebron called Kiryat Arba. It’s a place that’s notorious for being home to some of Israel’s most extreme Zionists.

DAVID SHEEN: Yeah, look, it’s scary as f***, and it’s especially scary, when you go into their home court, like when you go into a settlement, a small settlement in the hills and there’s no easy way to get out of where you are, you know?

ALEX ATACK: When he found what he thought was Fuchs’ house, he got out of his car, and knocked on the door.

DAVID SHEEN: I presented myself as; I’m considering moving to this settlement and becoming your neighbour. So can you tell me what it’s like to live here? And as a result, he began talking to me and telling me about the settlement and then I kind of transitioned, pivoted into, so what’s it like here politically? And then, straight off, he’s like, well, I’m a Kahane man myself. And then he goes to his bookshelf and pulls out the Kahane books that he personally designed the covers of. To get his response, I sent this question to him over the phone. I called him up later on and I said, Hi, it’s David Sheen, journalist. And I’m asking you to comment on my report coming out that you are, according to the FBI, the assassin of Alex Odeh. And he just said, you know, no, I don’t have any comment. And so that was his response.

ALEX ATACK: In the years after her husband’s murder, Helena’s Mum would go to an annual meeting with the FBI to discuss their progress on the case.

HELENA ODEH: And it was always the same thing. You know, they have no leads and there’s nothing that we found out. And I guess from what I’m being told now it was – they waited too long or they had suspects and they let them get away. And back then the forensics wasn’t as good as it is now. So it’s just – I think his case maybe just fell through the cracks. It’s still there. No progress.

ALEX ATACK: In private, the family struggled. They relied on his income, and the ADC helped where they could, but adjusting to life without their Dad was difficult.

HELENA ODEH: I mean, I think it forced me to grow up really fast, honestly. When we first lost our Dad like I said, my Mom really was distraught. She was very, very young  and then she had the three of us and we were 5, 7 and 1. And I think she didn’t know how to cope with it at first. Of course, there were a lot of people around her but I think I forced myself to become like the older sister, make sure that my sisters were taken care of. And because my one year old sister was so small, if my Mom wasn’t around, it was me.

And then my Mom had to learn how to be by herself and take care of us and not depend on my Dad. My Dad actually did a lot of the grocery shopping and bill paying and even the pumping gas into her car, he never let her do that. She would just say, you know, I have no gas, can you show me? He would tell her no, that’s for me to do. And he would go and make sure that her tank was always full.

It’s, I guess, a learning experience for all of us, but my Mom was amazing and she raised us and we’re all grown. And we still think about my Dad. And every year on his anniversary of his passing, my Mom will go and she goes throughout the year. I cannot. My sisters and I cannot go to his burial site unfortunately. That’s something I can’t do.

ALEX ATACK: In 1994, a statue was built outside the Santa Ana library in memory of Alex Odeh. It shows him wearing a keffiyeh draped over his shoulders, with a dove of peace in one hand and a book in the other. At an event to unveil the statue, Khalil Bendib, the artist who designed it, said that it had “been a cathartic experience, a way of coming to terms with our pain and tragic loss.”

But the harassment didn’t stop. Over the next three years, the statue was vandalised twice. Nobody was arrested in connection with that.

HELENA ODEH: The dove was broken off. It’s red paint, been thrown on it. It gets cleaned up, they’ll come back and do it again. They just have so much hate that they think vandalising the statue is okay. It’s not.

ALEX ATACK: I wondered, when you talk about your Dad – I wondered if you worry for your own safety?

HELENA ODEH: All the time. All the time. I’m afraid that somebody’s not gonna like what I say. And if I say something wrong that they’re gonna come after me or my family.

ALEX ATACK: When I asked retired Lietenant Hugh Mooney if he thinks anybody will ever face justice for Alex Odeh’s murder, he wasn’t hopeful.

HUGH MOONEY: Will justice ever be done? No, you know, there’ll never be a prosecution in my opinion. The suspects or the perpetrators will die of old age.

ALEX ATACK: But his legacy isn’t forgotten. Every year, the ADC still hold an annual banquet in honour of him. And last year, Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Talib paid tribute to Alex on the congress floor.

ARCHIVE [Rashida Talib]: Arab-Americans, and Palestinian-Americans are still here. Speaking loud and proud and speaking truth to power and carrying on Alex’s fight in his memory. Our politics of love are the only response. Those who support oppressive policies in Palestine, that murdered Alex and those who continue to fearmonger and whip up hate against us to this day will not win. We will never give up, Alex. I am proud to be here because of you. Thank you, and I yield back.

ALEX ATACK: At home, the Odeh family remember their husband, father and now grandfather in small ways; the pictures around the house, or picking berries from the same bush they used to when they were kids, or in making his favourite dinner, every year around his birthday.

HELENA ODEH: We call it molokhia – thats the kids favourite food. We go through the hassle of picking each one of those leaves every year around this time, just for them. So yeah, we do that. And his dessert – it’s filo pasty with a cream custard on the inside, then you bake it so that its crispy and pour a simple syrup on top of it. This one is called warbat. So when I do that, that kind of reminds me of my Dad.

DANA BALLOUT: This episode was produced by Alex Atack and edited by me, Dana Ballout. Fact checking by Deena Sabry and sound design and mixing by Mohamad Khreizat. Our team also includes Zeina Dowidar, Nadeen Shaker and Finbar Anderson.

ALEX ATACK: Thank you to Helena Odeh for sharing her family’s story with us, and to David Sheen for all of his incredible reporting. You can find him at davidsheen.com – and I do recommend reading his deep dive for The Intercept, its called ‘Decades after a Palestinian American activist was assassinated in California, two suspects in his killing are living openly in Israel.’

Thanks also to Revered Darell Meyers and Hugh Mooney for speaking to me for the episode, and to Will Youmans at the Arab American TV archive for his help sourcing archival material.

For more on Alex Odeh and for updates in the ongoing search for justice, you can read the work of journalist Gabriel San Roman at the LA Times. He’s been covering this story for years.

DANA BALLOUT: Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back next week. Take care.

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