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

Since forming, the Palestinians have played a series of international competitions, including the inaugural Arab Women’s Football Championship and West Asian Women’s Football Championship. (The Palestinian women’s team is not ranked by FIFA.) On these occasions, they finally are able to unite as a team, to learn each other’s names and to play on a full-sized pitch. Since their inception, the Bethlehem contingent has practiced on a concrete handball court at the university, which perhaps has facilitated close ball control but also a rash of knee injuries.

Travel to events abroad brings its own rigors. The previous coach, Emil Hilal, left the post after Israelis detained him before an overseas trip. Mousa, the athletics director, says that such is the routine that must be accommodated within itineraries.

When we go to Jordan for tournaments, we need all the day. First we pass through Wadi Nar, from the Palestine frontier, then from the Israeli controls, where they stop us for hours, questioning the girls and the coach, and checking if anybody is involved in politics. After that we pass to the Jordan side where they question us again. This is our problem.

No one fully escapes political involvement in this context. “She has to be smart and know the politics,” says Sami Mshasha, with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Jerusalem, of Thaljieh’s unwritten duties as team captain. His daughter, Sarouna, at 12 is the side’s youngest player. Implicit within the participation of these girls and women, Mshasha implies, is acting as a brake on the conservative backlash that forms a natural response to occupation. The conservative impulse took concrete form when Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament in Jan 06 elections.

Mshasha drives through the checkpoints in a white, UN-marked car and comments on the low priority with which the Palestinian FA treats the women’s game. “You can almost hear them snickering,” he says.

Note: For additional background and links, see 3 Dec 06.

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