On October 11, 1985, terrorists tried to silence, instill fear, and gut the hope of the Arab-American community. As Alex Odeh turned the key to ADC’s office in Santa Ana, CA a pipe-bomb rigged to the door knob exploded and ripped through his body.
This act of terror tore through the soul of Alex Odeh’s family and the Arab American community. Imagine not being able to give your husband or your father a proper burial. The Odeh family had no choice. Think about how you would feel if for 30 years police officers and the government repeatedly told you “there is an ongoing investigation” but nothing more. That is what the U.S. government, Department of Justice, and the FBI have forced the Odeh family to endure.
Alex Odeh dedicated his life to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), joining ADC in 1982. Mr. Odeh went above and beyond to combat the stereotyping of Arabs and biased Middle Eastern reporting in the media. Mr. Odeh’s dedication brought ADC into the forefront as a civil rights organization by 1983, only three years since our founding in 1980.
Mr. Odeh’s appointment as West Coast Regional Director in 1983 was evident, as he lived and breathed respect and justice. Mr. Odeh fought tirelessly to build inter-faith unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians in Southern California. On the day of his assassination, he was scheduled to give a speech at Congregation B’nai Tzadek, a Jewish synagogue in Fountain Valley.
Prior to Mr. Odeh’s assassination, he was subjected to numerous hate-motivated threats to his life and safety because of his advocacy for Arab and Palestinian-American rights. The FBI and government officials failed to take seriously the threats against Mr. Odeh. An exemplary civil rights activist, Alex was dynamic and he never let the threats deter him from his work for society.
Following Mr. Odeh’s assassination in 1985, the FBI classified the bombing as an act of domestic terrorism and designated the investigation into the case as the highest national priority. However, despite solid leads, advancements in technology and forensics which should have aided in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators, the FBI has yet to resolve the case.
Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous articulated the need for justice best when discussing the 30 year journey to convict the murderer of Medgar Evers, an civil rights activist from Mississippi assassinated in 1963, “Whenever someone who works for justice is killed, whenever a leader in a civil rights organization is killed, it is the responsibility of our country as a whole, the civil rights community as a whole, to stand up and demand that their killers be brought to justice.”
ADC’s growth as an organization and achievements both past and future undoubtedly are a product of Mr. Odeh’s vision for our organization. When persons beyond the Arab-American community seek our assistance, desire our support, and fight for our community, we know we have made a difference in changing the landscape of civil and human rights. We are forever indebted to Mr. Odeh and his family. They sacrificed so much so that our people can have a voice.