All eyes might be on the Talledega Speedway, but these six women race in Ramallah, Palestine. And their need for speed has made them famous.
Speed Sisters: Racing in Palestine is a documentary on the Middle East's first all-women motor racing team. It follows them as they take on the street car racing circuit of the occupied West Bank, Palestine. Amber Fares, a Canadian-Lebanese filmmaker has been living in Ramallah for four years and documenting their journey.
Their start was unconventional. Khaled Qaddoura of the Palestinian Motor Sport and Motorcycle Federation, saw one of the young ladies racing boys in the neighborhood and offered her the chance she had only imagined. Participation in a training camp for drivers with several other women. It was sponsored by the British Council. It’s there where the Speed Sisters took on life of its own.
"They had created the name Speed Sisters, and had made this whole online social media campaign behind them. They hired us to do short videos, but while I got to know them, I saw that there was a bigger story." Amber told The National.
The team of six women, both Muslims and Christians, range in age from 20's to mid-30's. The front page of their website gives a brief description of each:
Suna, The Pioneer, known as “Queen of the Track” and “Sunnacher”, Suna was a true trailblazer as one of the first women to race in Palestine and to place in the top 10. She retired from racing at the end of the 2010 season. Suna was, and is, an inspiration to many, including us.
Noor, The Drifter. There is one word that best descibes Noor… that is BADASS. Born in Texas, she grew up in Jerusalem and has lived around the world. Noor speaks 3 languages, is a serious athlete and loves to drift and ride dirt bikes. Enough said.
Hadeel - The Rookie. Hadeel is a mechanical engineering student entering her third year at Birzeit University. She loves cars and it is her dream to race. She has been coming to the races to help inspect the cars before the race and to cheer the girls on.
Mona - The Veteran. What can we say about Mona. She hangs out of cars racing at top speed. She cracks the best jokes. And she is the first to help you if you need it. She is the original Speed Sister. The veteran. Mona was “discovered” while racing boys in the streets of Ramallah and has never turned back since.Betty - Betty started racing in 2010. Both her father and her brother are car racers as well. She was the fastest women on the Palestinian circuit in 2011 and is now sponsored by Peugeot Palestine.
Marah Zahalka - The Prodigy. From Jenin and grew up during some pretty tough times. She taught herself how to drive by watching her mom give driving lessons when she was 12. Now 20 years old, Marah knows her way around a track, and through the finish line.
They’ve become local stars which prompted the making of the film. Dealing with the harsh realities of the Israeli occupation is part of the driving force behind their desires to race. And part of what fueled their motivation was struggling with discerning parents and a public view that was less than favorable. It’s been a long road.
As NPR reported in July 2010, there was disapproval voiced among some clerics and citizens:
Jawabrah says she's heard men call it haram, or forbidden, but she thinks they are ill-informed. There is nothing wrong with racing, she says.
While most of the men at the races applaud just as loudly for the female racers as for the men, some say they are uncomfortable with women at the racetrack.
Tareq Sarsou, a 33-year-old Ramallah store owner, says that while he was impressed by the sport, he isn't sure it's appropriate for Palestinian society. "I would not allow my wife, my sister or my daughter to race here," Sarsou says.
In a recent interview with Arab News, the ladies expressed their feelings about racing.
“We feel we are free when we’re doing this,” teammate Mona Ennab, 26, said. “It’s a way to escape everything around us."
One noted feeling depressed at the checkpoints but a feeling of power once let through and she was able to fly down the roadway.
“In our culture, there is a lot of pressure to listen to your parents, but when I get in the car, I can do what I want with it,” Jayyusi said. “I feel total freedom."
These ladies now compete on an equal level with men at races held around the West Bank and are local celebrities.
A recent fundraising event was held online for the making of the documentary on indiegogo.com. Their goal was $35,000, which they not only met with donations but exceeded at $46,438.
The documentary will be about more than just racing, it will also tell about the lives of the young ladies behind the wheel.
"The race is sort of the background for their story," says Fares. "It's a very good vehicle, no pun intended, for getting into their society and seeing what things are like in Palestine, to change a lot of stereotypes. They're very exceptional women, but I think the things they experience publically are more mainstream than we would think. I can see issues I've dealt with or am dealing with through their lives."
With monies raised and filming near complete, the Speed Sisters will be more widely known with their love of racing and motives understood.
“My dad is a champion racer in Mexico and my brother is too,” Betty, 31 told Arab News, “It’s in my blood — there’s definitely a family rivalry.”
Although born in Mexico, with a brief stint in the U.S, before moving back at 13 with her family to the West Bank, she added, “I want to be here, it’s my country. Why not show the world that Palestinian women can do anything?“