Women’s football | The hard playing surface of Palestine (w/ video)

… I am going

to the fields, so I may glean

the free grain that falls

behind, if one may

look on me kindly— …

There, in the fields, gleaning

behind the harvesters, she found herself

by accident …

—Ruth 2:2–3, trans. David Rosenberg

Bethlehem, West Bank | This picture of the biblical Ruth, the Moabite, a poor woman gleaning in Bethlehem (“house of bread”) behind reapers of barley strikes a parallel with the women’s football team from Palestine, taking its passion and pleasure from scraps left by a patriarchal culture and occupying authorities.

YouTube video

Thaljieh, Jackline Jazrawi, Mshasha and Mousa feature in Italian journalist Conti’s video. “Through football we can make our minds more open,” says Jazrawi, “and our society too.”

Even the language of the team’s organizers, quoted in the recent Guardian Unlimited report by James Montague (“The Slow March to Equality,” Jan 9), evokes Judeo-Christian scripture, if for no other reason than the national team’s backbone trains in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. The side also has outposts in Ramallah, Jericho and Gaza, although, as with the men’s team from Palestine, team members are prevented from training together due to a network of security checkpoints controlling access to patchwork Palestinian land holdings.


“We started with Honey,” says Samar Araj Mousa, who as athletics director at Bethlehem University initiated the women’s program in 2003. Mousa refers to Honey Thaljieh, 23, striker and captain. A 2006 Bethlehem University graduate in business administration, Thaljieh in interviews over the past few years emphasizes that tight controls on space and travel paradoxically have contributed to cohesion. “We have nowhere else to go and nowhere to put our energies,” she tells Al-Jazeera. “In Bethlehem we are in a prison that is only open from above.”

She expands on the idea in the video (see above) produced by Bethlehem-based Alternative Information Center editor Laura Conti:

We are just playing with our souls and spiritual abilities. It’s because we are strong, we are Palestinian, we face a lot of difficulties. We want to be something.

Like most of the Bethlehem-based players, Thaljieh is Christian and faces less cultural and family stress than players who are Muslim. Islamic authorities within the Palestinian territories appear to agree that football for women is not haram, or forbidden, but stricter norms govern a woman’s clothing and the expectations related to marriage and family. (See 11 Mar 07 and 28 Feb 07 for more on FIFA’s policy regarding religious head coverings.)

Palestine has lost two first-team players to marriage. “From a religious point of view, Muslim or Christian,” coach Raed Ayyad tells Montague, “no one has said that it’s forbidden for women to play soccer. Islam says that sport is good for the body and if [the players] wear long clothes then it’s not forbidden.” Goalkeeper Nadine Klaib, 14, says that “wearing the veil gives me power.”

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