Fatima Bernawi

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Fatima Bernawi
فاطمة برناوي
Born1939 (1939)
Died (aged 83)
Cairo, Egypt
Resting placeGaza City

Fatima Mohammed Bernawi (1939 – 3 November 2022)[1] (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 terrorist operation in Israel—the attempted bombing of a movie theatre in October 1967.[2][3][4]

Background and early life[edit]

Bernawi was born in Jerusalem in 1939.[5] At the age of nine, during the 1948 Nakba, her mother who is of Palestinian descent moved their family from Jerusalem to a refugee camp near Amman. However, they later returned to Palestine to her Nigerian father, who had fought in the 1936 Palestine revolt, and who had remained behind.[6][7]

Bernawi 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 colour of her skin, despite her Palestinian nationality.[8]

Political life[edit]

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.[9]

Attempted bombing and arrest[edit]

The attempted bombing incident occurred in October 1967 at the Zion Cinema in Jewish West Jerusalem. Bernawi said the bomb's civilian target was chosen in protest of a film that celebrated the Six Day War. The bomb failed to explode and she was arrested by Israeli soldiers for the attempt. Bernawi claimed her skin colour was a factor in her arrest, saying, "Of course, they arrested all the young women from African origin."[10]

Though sentenced to life in prison, Bernawi was released in a prisoner exchange in 1977 after having served 10 years.[6] 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.[11] Later on, she married a former prisoner from Acre, Fawzi al-Nimr, who was released in May 1985.[12]

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".[13] 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".[14]

On 28 May 2015, Bernawi was honoured 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 honoured 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."[15] Bernawi was also honoured alongside Mahmoud Bakr Hijazi and Ahmad Moussa Salama in honour 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 1 January 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..."[16]

Death in Egypt[edit]

On 3 November 2022, Bernawi died at "Palestine hospital" in Cairo, aged 83,[17][18] and was later buried in Gaza City on 6 November.[19]


  1. ^ In honour of Black History Month: the Black-Arab paradigm Archived 19 August 2018 at the Wayback Machine, 29 October 2016
  2. ^ "Women's Struggle in Occupied Palestine". New Jersey Solidarity: Activists for the Liberation of Palestine. Democratic Palestine, May 1984. Archived from the original on 7 October 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  3. ^ Abdulhadi, Rabab Ibrahim (July 2012). "Living Under Occupation" (PDF). Against the Current (159): 17. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  4. ^ Salhani, Claude (31 December 1977). "13th Anniversary of the Palestinian Revolution". Corbis Images. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  5. ^ Ferwana, Abdel Nasser (9 March 2012). "" فاطمة برناوي " أول أسيرة وبداية الحكاية ("Fatima Barnawi" and the beginning of the first captive tale)". Palestine Behind Bars. Archived from the original on 30 January 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Palestine's unique African quarter". gulfnews.com. Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  7. ^ Kawar, Amal (1996). Daughters of Palestine: leading women of the Palestinian national movement (PDF). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-7914-2845-1. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  8. ^ Kawar, Amal. Daughters of Palestine (PDF). p. 11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  9. ^ Amireh, Amal (Fall 2003). "Between Complicity and Subversion: Body Politics in Palestinian National Narrative" (PDF). The South Atlantic Quarterly (102:4): 769. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  10. ^ Fatima Bernawi, as quoted in Kawar, Amal. Daughters of Palestine (PDF). p. 11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  11. ^ Courtney, Andrew. "Guardians of the Mosque: African Palestinians of Jerusalem" (PDF). p. 18. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 February 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  12. ^ "في يوم المرأة العالمي فاطمة البرناوي: أول أسيرة في الثورة الفلسطينية المعاصرة". qudsnet.com (in Arabic). 8 March 2021. Archived from the original on 16 November 2021. Retrieved 12 November 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ Kawar, Amal. Daughters of Palestine (PDF). p. 10. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  14. ^ "Yasser Arafat: A living legend yet". Al-Ahram Weekly. No. 717. 24 November 2004. Archived from the original on 6 January 2015.
  15. ^ "Abbas awards terrorist with "Star of Honor"". Palestinian Media Watch. 4 June 2015. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas Awards Medals Of Honor To Fatah Terrorists". The Middle East Media Research Institute. 17 April 2015. Archived from the original on 5 July 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Afro-Palestinian Fatima Bernawi, first of Israel's women prisoners, dies". The New Arab. 3 November 2022. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  18. ^ "قامة وطنية ثائرة.. نعي رسمي وشعبي لفاطمة البرناوي أولى أسيرات الثورة الفلسطينية المعاصرة". Al Jazeera (in Arabic). 4 November 2022.
  19. ^ "تشييع جثمان أولى أسيرات الثورة الفلسطينية في قطاع غزة". arabi21.com (in Arabic). 6 November 2022.