Red Bull shines light on Palestine’s fastest women

It’s not an everyday thing to see Palestinians covered in a positive light in a national action sports magazine, but when it does happen, it happens big.

Starting on page 56 of the March 2012 issue of the Red Bulletin is a feature article on the Speed Sisters, the first and only all-female Palestinian race team. Complete with family stories, quotes, nineteen vivid photographs, and a bold mention on the magazine’s front cover, the coverage captures the essence of Palestinian defiance through a team of female athletes challenging cultural norms and breaking down political barriers.

Here are a selection of quotes that I personally found interesting and cleverly insightful. Emphasis is my own.

“In the land-locked Palestinian territories where space is at a premium and there’s an absence of long stretches of checkpoint-free road, racers have to find suitable areas—a disused helipad in Bethlehem, a closed marketplace in Jenin—where the[y] can compete on speed tests on obstacle courses.”

Technically, Palestine isn’t land-locked, even by 1967 standards. The Mediterranean Sea runs along the Gaza Strip’s northwest border. But Israel maintains full military control over the seaspace so, in that sense, it’s locked off to Palestinians. It’s also a welcome surprise to see a mainstream publication acknowledge the density of Israel’s checkpoints in and around the West Bank.

“Sahar Jawabrah, a 44-year-old schoolteacher, saw footage of the Speed Sisters on TV and wanted to have a try herself. She now occasionally turns up to tests and is the only woman ever to have raced wearing the hijab.”

It is likely that Sahar is indeed the only woman in the world to have ever raced in a professional motor event. The hijab is more than a sign of modesty. To Sahar, it’s emblematic of her determination to compete on an equal playing field with men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims.

“The speed test series is a great source of pride for Palestinians, since there is no Israeli equivalent. ‘They would love to come and race here,’ says a Federation official . . . ‘But the way things are that’s just not possible.’”

If there was no occupation and if Israel respected Palestinian human and civil rights, I’m sure the Speed Sisters would enjoy any extra competition.

“[The racecourse] lies on the eastern border of the Palestinian territories, in the shadow of a fortified Israeli checkpoint that is manned by a single guard, who observes the preparations from his tower.”

Israel’s occupation of Palestine is present in virtually every aspect of Palestinian daily life, even those moments when a group of racers rev their engines or swap their tires. The checkpoint serves as a reminder of the rights abuses these Palestinians seek to defy.

“’When my aunts and uncles found out I was racing, they thought I was just showing off for a group of guys,’ she [Marah Zahalka] says, leaning against the parking lot wall. . . . Now that she’s proven herself they’re starting to come around.”

For cultures that value education and employment in any major field of academia, car racing isn’t normally accepted as something beyond a hobby, especially for women. But the Speed Sisters are not only bringing attention to the sport, they’re also forcing their way through paternalistic social constructs. To some, it’s a contentious issue, but to the rest, it’s more than refreshing.

The Speed Sisters deserve credit for crashing stereotypes and outwitting Israel’s restrictions on movement in the West Bank. The Red Bulletin also earns my applause for going out on a limb and presenting the Palestinian people as the innovative and resilient human beings that they truly are.

To read the full article, click here.

Sami Kishawi


There are 3 comments

  1. Raymond

    Thanks for the great feedback on this piece. We’re glad we could shine some light on this very cool scene, and on a part of the world people know too little about. —Raymond Roker, The Red Bulletin (US)

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