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The war in Gaza hits home for law partners Reem Odeh, a Palestinian-American, and Joel Brodsky, who is Jewish.

Gaza War Strikes Home For Chicago Jewish-Palestinian Law Firm
Partnership tested when Arab client's family is killed in Gaza.

-- Glenn Salig

Late at night attorney Joel Brodsky’s BlackBerry buzzed with a new e-mail. Brodsky, a partner in the Chicago law firm of Brodsky & Odeh, looked and saw that it was from his law partner Reem Odeh, a US born Palestinian-American.

The message read “Our client Moshen Salha’s family all died in an airstrike in Gaza.”

Brodsky, who is Jewish, remembers his shock and deep sadness.

"The story was all over the news. Seven members of the Salha family were killed on January 8, 2009 by Israeli bombs in Gaza," says Brodsky. "I couldn't believe how connected we were to the battle in Gaza. It was truly a sad day and the war really hit home."

The Gaza battle in the Middle East had just become very personal to Brodsky & Odeh and their law office in Chicago.

The law firm of Brodsky & Odeh specializes in the areas of criminal law and immigration law. Brodsky heads up the criminal law area and Odeh does the immigration cases. But from time to time Odeh will handle a criminal case, and Brodsky will deal with an immigration hearing.

Their client Moshen Salha, a Palestinian Arab from Gaza, is an immigration client, but a recent hearing on his immigration petition was handled by Brodsky. Brodsky was particularly aggressive in court at Moshen’s hearing. He insisted on a change of hearing officers when he says the first hearing officer showed animosity to his Arab client.

The strategy worked. The new hearing officer approved Mr. Salha’s petition on the spot.

But the triumph was short lived given the tragedy that fell on his family in Gaza. Moshen’s brother, sister-in-law, and five nieces and nephews were killed by an Israeli jet made in the US.

So how can an Arabic speaking first generation Palestinian-American be partners with a second generation Jewish-American?

It is certainly not because either has abandoned their respective political views or positions. Brodsky grew up in the then very Jewish West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.

"I never even met a non-Jew until I started 8th grade, and I was a supporter of Israel practically from birth, marching in Israeli independence day parades, and even belonging to AZA, a pro-Israel youth group when I was a teenager," says Brodsky.

Odeh, on the other hand, is a leader in the Palestinian-American community.

"I march in protests against the war in Gaza, and I am fluent in spoken and written Arabic," says Odeh. "I want everyone to know I am a Palestinian. I am proud of it and have very strong beliefs."

Odeh is a past president and board member of the Illinois chapter of the Arab-American Bar Association. She is active in human rights causes and organizations, including the Arab-American Democratic Club and the Palestinian-American Women’s Association, and she has worked with Amnesty International.

So how do they do it? Do Odeh and Brodsky hold the secret that will lead to peace in the Middle East? And was their partnership affected by the tragic deaths of the Salha family last week?

The answers, they say, lie in their joint and unshakable faith in the democratic idea that all people are equal and are endowed with inalienable rights, and an absolute belief in the First Amendment right to free political expression.

"I don't take personal offense when Reem marches against the Israeli assault on Gaza," says Brodsky. “It is her absolute right to express her political beliefs.”

And that same understanding is accorded by Odeh.

"I don't get upset when Joel blames Arab civilian deaths on Hamas and holds the Gazans responsible for electing extremists even though I don't agree," says Odeh. “I understand that he is entitled to his opinions.”

Both say they are deeply upset by the tragedies, like the death of the Salha family members.

"We recognize that people like the Salha family members are simply human beings who suffer because leaders can’t solve their differences," says Brodsky. "We can be partners and still be at different ends of the current Middle East crisis."

Courtesy of PR News Channel

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