[”A Profile from the Archives“ is a new series published by Jadaliyya in both Arabic and English in cooperation with the Lebanese newspaper, Assafir. These profiles will feature iconic figures who left indelible marks in the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa.]
Known as: Bouhired
Date of birth: 1935
Spouse: Jacques Vergès
Date of marriage: 1965
Category: Political activist
- Algerian (struggler, one of three Djamilas known in the history of Algerian struggle, including her, Djamila Bu Azza, and Djamila Bu Basha).
- Born in 1935 in Al-Qasaba neighborhood to an Algerian father and Tunisian mother in a middle class family. She was the only daughter among seven sons.
- She went to a French school that used to force students to sing the anthem “France is our mother” every morning, but Djamila, due to her participation in the Algerian struggle since her school days, used to sing “Algeria is our mother,” which drove the French headmaster to severely punish her.
- When the Algerian revolution broke out in 1954, she joined the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) when she was twenty years old. She joined the Fedayeen later and was the first to volunteer to plant bombs in the roads used by the French during the occupation. Due to her heroic acts she became "most wanted."
- On 26 January 1957, she started her journey of struggle when she detonated a time bomb in a club visited frequently by French youth doing their military service in Algeria. Several bombings ensued.
- On 9 April 1957, she was arrested by a patrol of the occupation after she was shot in her leg. The patrol found documents with her along with letters and a lot of money, which proved that she had a connection with the commander of the Algerian Fedayeen, Yasif Saadi.
- When she was subjected to torture, she stated infamously, “I know you will sentence me to death but do not forget that by killing me you will not only assassinate freedom in your country but you will not prevent Algeria from becoming free and independent.” Three years after her imprisonment, she was deported to France and spent three years there.
- She was beaten and electrocuted on her leg wound, her breasts, and her gentilia. She suffered from severe bleeding that caused amenorrhea, and the inability to raise her left arm.
- She was sentenced to death along with Djamila Bu Azza on 16 July 1957.
- She walked into the prison chanting: “Jazayerna” or “our Algeria.” Her voice echoed in the streets.
- Popular demonstrations were organized to protest her detention and her case received regional and international attention.
- World leaders like President Gamal Abdul Naser, Indian President Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, demanded her release.
- The day of her execution was set on 7 March 1958, but it was postponed. A decree was issued on 18 April reducing the punishment to life imprisonment. She used to say: "I preferred death to life in prison, I wish they had executed me to relieve me from the torture I am suffering now.”
- She was released from prison in 1962. She married her lawyer, Jacques Vergès, in 1965. They had two children, Lias and Maryam (Maryam is married to Fuad Habbub and has a daughter, Fatima, born in1995).
- She worked with her husband to establish a magazine that covered national African revolutions.
- Separated from her husband since 1991, she has been living alone in Algeria and receives a salary from the state. She carries out social activities from time to time.
- She was not given any post in the government because she married a Frenchman.
- She presented, along with the famous struggler Zahra Draif, a progressive family law draft. She organized a demonstration to get it approved. This was the first demonstration that happened after independence, but it failed to change the government`s official stance. This led her to retire to her personal life. This frustration drove her to say in 1987 in the name of the Algerian women strugglers: "They have been forgotten twenty-five years ago."
- The famous Egyptian director, Yousif Shaheen, made a major movie production entitled "Djamila" starred by the Egyptian actress, Magda. The movie was only allowed on Egyptian TV in 1998, thirty-seven years after it was produced.
- She issued a call urging Algerian authorities to take care of her and other strugglers after she reached a point where she was unable to afford her medicine.
- She published an article in the Algerian newspaper, Alwatan, expressing her suffering. She received a huge wave of support from many members of society.
- On 25 January 2009, she visited Lebanon upon an invitation from the head of the Lebanese Association for the Welfare of the Disabled, Randa Berri. She visited the town of Bin Jbail, Maron Al-Ras, and Al-Khayam detention camp and ended her visit with laying a wreath on the tombs of the two martyrs, Hadi Nasrallah and Emad Maghnya. She ended her visit on 27 January 2009.
- She said during her visit to Al-Khayam detention camp: "Thank God I visited these places for they are better than palaces."
- "I am still a rebel because the Arab woman has to carry an ax in her right arm to build, and shed a tear in her eye hoping to move the men of the nation." (Assafir, 26 January 2009).
- She sent an open letter to the Algerian President, Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, on 9 December 2009, asking him to take care of her miserable situation, and asked him to raise the pensions of former male and female mujahedeen to provide a decent life for them.
[This article was translated from the Arabic by Ali Adeeb Alnaemi. Click here for the Arabic text.]