|Born||1939 (age 81–82)|
Fatima Mohammed Bernawi (b. 1939) (also transliterated Barnawi; Arabic: فاطمة برناوي) was an Afro-Palestinian militant who was involved in the Palestinian Freedom Movement of the mid-1960s, a significant period of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. She was known as the first Palestinian woman to have organized a paramilitary operation in Israel—the attempted bombing of a cinema in October 1967.
Background and early life
Bernawi was born in Jerusalem in 1939. At the age of nine, during the 1948 Nakba, her mother who is of Palestinian descent moved their family from Jerusalem's African quarters to a refugee camp near Amman. However, they later returned to Palestine to her Nigerian father, who had fought in the 1936 Palestinian Rebellion, and who had remained behind.
Bernawi stated that despite her Palestinian roots, she still experienced anti-black racism from other Arabs. For example, she worked as a practical nurse for the Arab-American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia (ARAMCO) but was not allowed to give shots to patients because of the color of her skin, despite her Palestinian nationality.
Of thirty-four Palestinian women whom Amal Kawar interviewed for her study Daughters of Palestine, Bernawi was one of only four who joined the resistance movement initially as a guerrilla fighter before becoming a political resistor. The others were Laila Khaled, Eisheh Odeh, and Rasmiyeh Odeh.
Attempted bombing and arrest
The attempted bombing incident occurred in October 1967 at the Zion Cinema in Jewish West Jerusalem. Bernawi describes the placing of the bomb as a protest of a film that celebrated the 1967 War between Israel and Palestine, though the bomb did not explode. She was arrested by Israeli soldiers for the attempt. Bernawi cites her skin color as a factor in her arrest, saying, "Of course, they arrested all the young women from African origin."
Though sentenced to life in prison, in a 1977 prisoner exchange Bernawi was released after having served 10 years. She was deported, but returned to the political party Fatah, later serving as the first female chief of the Palestinian Female Police Corps in Gaza. By 1996, she was "the highest ranking female in Fateh militia and... head of the women's section of the police in the Palestinian self-rule government in the Gaza Strip and Jericho". Yasser Arafat, noted leader of Fateh and Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), held her in high regard, once saying that "if he would marry anyone it would be [Fatima] Bernawi".
On 28 May 2015, Bernawi was honored by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas with the Military Star of Honor "out of appreciation for her pioneering role in the struggle" and "for the public good." Though the bombing she was honored for was a failure, Bernawi insisted it was successful, saying, "This is not a failure, because it generated fear throughout the world. Every woman who carries a bag needs to be checked before she enters the supermarket, any place, cinemas and pharmacies." Bernawi was also honored alongside Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi and Ahmad Moussa Salama on in honor of Palestinian Prisoner's Day, 17 April 2015. She was described as "one of the first Palestinian women to adopt [the means of] armed self-sacrifice operations after the start of the modern Palestinian revolution, which was launched by Fatah on January 1, 1965. She was the first young Palestinian woman to be arrested by the Israeli security forces, and is the first woman prisoner listed in the records of the [Palestinian] women prisoners' movement..."
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