Longtime solidarity activist and TecNica Volunteer Bernie McFall died of complications from pneumonia in Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York, on Oct. 16, 2012. He was 76 and had been fighting two forms of cancer. This memorial tribute is taken from the Weekly News Update on the Americas, Saturday, October 27, 2012.
During the contra war of the 1980s Bernie worked with TecNica in Nicaragua as a volunteer consultant on IBM mainframes. In the 1990s he traveled to the West Bank to observe conditions there, and he visited Cuba in the early 2000s.
Bernie was a reliable presence at demonstrations, vigils and picket lines in the New York area for more than two decades, with a special focus on solidarity with the peoples of Central America, Cuba, Haiti and Palestine.
Although he was probably best known for his dedication in handling the routine work of political organizing—photocopying, leafleting, mailing out fliers—Bernie was knowledgeable in many areas, especially Middle Eastern history. He could read an astonishing number of languages, including French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and some Mandarin. He studied Fijian in the 1970s when he was in the Peace Corps, and he learned Arabic in a US military school during the late 1950s, when he was stationed in Eritrea, which was then annexed to Ethiopia. Years later he would smile and say: “They wouldn’t necessarily approve of how I’ve used what they taught me.”
The New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti was a close friend, and he was staying at Bernie’s apartment in April 2002 when a joint task force of immigration agents and the New York City police arrested him in what quickly became a cause célèbre. Bernie worked steadily in the two-year campaign that finally won Farouk’s release; the federal judge who freed Farouk described the Palestinian’s imprisonment as “Kafkaesque.” Bernie himself was threatened and harassed by the police and others during the campaign; filmmaker Konrad Aderer provides more information on Bernie’s role at the Life or Liberty website.
Bernie was involved with the Weekly News Update from its first days in 1990, working tirelessly to select and clip articles to be summarized and often arranging for photocopying. We will be joining with others to honor him with a memorial; we’ll announce the plans as soon as we know them.
A few weeks before he died, Bernie asked to make sure his books were made available to people who would make good use of them. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information on the collection, which includes a number of books in Arabic.
He will be greatly missed by so many that he touched and will always have a very special place in all of our hearts.
Bernie in the 1980s. Photos: Rena Cohen/NYC