THE BLOG
10/11/2013 09:17 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Unceasing Fight for Justice in the Murder of Alex Odeh

Earlier this year, Myrlie Evers-Williams spoke at the Mississippi house where she lived in 1963 -- the very spot where her husband, NAACP leader Medgar Evers, was shot to death in his driveway.

Ms. Evers-Williams asked the somber crowd to remember her husband as an activist who sacrificed his life for his work, and she implored them to remember other activists who made sacrifices for social justice.

Alex Odeh was one of those activists.

A Palestinian-American organizer and civil rights icon, Odeh was assassinated 28 years ago today, October 11, 1985. His life and work shared strong parallels with Medgar Evers, as did his untimely and tragic death. Unlike Medgar Evers, however, the name Alex Odeh remains unrecognizable for too many Americans, and his murder remains unresolved.

Odeh was no stranger to discrimination and segregation. Born in Palestine in 1944, he arrived in the United States in 1972 and dedicated his life to defending the rights of Palestinians and Arab Americans. In his role as Southern California Regional Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the nation's largest Arab American civil rights organization, he organized grassroots activism in the ADC's western region.

On October 10, 1985, Odeh made one of his frequent public appearances, speaking on the TV show Nightline to call for peace in the Middle East. The next day, he was murdered by a pipe bomb that exploded at the ADC office in Santa Ana, California.

Twenty-eight years have gone by since the blast that shook Santa Ana and the Arab-American community, but Odeh's killer still has not been caught. The FBI initially classified the attack as an act of terrorism and loosely identified suspects connected to the right-wing terrorist group Jewish Defense League (JDL), but not a single person has been charged, or even formally named, in conjunction with the murder.

Still, we have reason to hold out hope for justice. Once again, it is the story of Medgar Evers that reminds us how hard work and persistence can bring about change.

Evers' murder was a national tragedy. He was eulogized in a song by Bob Dylan and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Yet despite the eyes of the nation and ample evidence that pointed to a local white supremacist, an all-white jury in 1964 twice refused to convict Evers' killer. It took more than 30 years for new evidence to emerge that finally brought his assassin, Byron De La Beckwith to justice.

Odeh's death also sparked nationwide outrage, including messages of regret from President Ronald Reagan and several congress members. Three decades later, some have given up hope that the killer will ever be brought to justice. But a renewed effort from the civil rights community has injected new life into the cause.

The NAACP has joined with the ADC to demand justice for Alex Odeh. The two groups are circulating an online petition demanding that the FBI and Department of Justice allocate the necessary resources to resolve this terrorism case once and for all. As Medgar Evers' supporters showed us, it is never too late to find closure.

If one had to choose the most striking similarity between Medgar Evers and Alex Odeh, it would be each man's commitment to building bridges beyond his community. Just as Evers and his NAACP colleagues worked with white lawyers to challenge Jim Crow, Odeh was known for reaching out to the Jewish community and engaging in dialogue when others refused. The day he died, he was scheduled to speak at Congregation B'Nai Tzedek, a California synagogue.

Both men recognized that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We should live by their example as we work side by side to bring closure to this case. Whatever your background, race or religion, visit www.alexodeh.org and sign our petition, so that, together, we can bring Alex Odeh's murderer to justice.

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