Life on the West Bank comes with many obstacles, but ones that probably wouldn’t spring to mind are those faced by local female car enthusiasts, looking for somewhere safe to practice their manoeuvres.
Documentary maker Amber Fares was travelling around the Middle East when she stumbled across an extraordinary sight in Bethlehem.
Before her, a crowd had gathered to watch a group of Palestinian women tearing up tarmac in a selection of race cars on a piece of land that was once Yasser Arafat’s helicopter landing pad.
“Racing in Palestine brings a whole new meaning to freedom for these girls”
In the distance, gunfire and sirens rang out in stark contrast to the high octane revs of the driver’s engines.
In an area defined by war, Fares knew she had to tell the story of the incredible bravery and spirit of the first all-female racing team in the Arab world.
“It was just so unexpected to see them there, putting on their helmets and racing. I went up and introduced myself to them. It’s such a testament to their love of the sport,” Fares says.
“Racing in Palestine adds a whole new meaning to freedom for these girls, because so much of what happens in their lives is out of their control.”
Founded in 2010, the racing team consists of drivers Marah Zahalka, Mona Ali, Betty Saadeh, Noor Dauod and team captain Maysoon Jayyusi.
For Jayyusi, racing means freedom and its primary purpose is “To do something you want to do, even if you are under occupation.
“We were so excited that there would be a film about us,” she tells Loaded. “People all around the world are hearing about us and our story which is amazing.”
“We just want girls to fight for their dreams”
Jayyusi says the documentary has given a platform to female drivers to educate young girls about following their dreams and also to stress the importance of safety on the road.
“We want to tell them to follow their dreams,” she says, “But we also want to advise them about driving safely and we think we can help with that and encourage girls who like to drive to go to specific places and not do it in the street.”
The women of Speed Sisters regularly face huge challenges when it comes to finding a piece of road in the war torn territory to race their cars on.
Because of the checkpoints, closed roads and surveillance, there are no open spaces where practice is possible, so races and training sessions happen in a cleared vegetable market or a car park.
“Even now, we find it difficult to find places to practice and some of us have not raced in a while.”
During one shocking part of the documentary, a group of the drivers are shot at with tear gas canisters as they scope out a potential training ground.
“Even now, we find it difficult to find places to practice and some of us have not raced in a while,” Jayyusi admits. She is based in Jordan, while Monah, Betty and Marah are currently stuck in the West Bank, and Noor is a drift racer in Dubai.
“We will not give up,” Jayyusi adds. “It’s what we all want to do.”
The races Fares filmed for the documentary weren’t start-to-finish competitions but individual time trials for the eventual title of champion racer in the Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation, which was founded in 2005.
For Maysoon Jayyusi, her dream for the team is that they will go global, get sponsorship and make a full-time living out of the sport.
“This sport is such a tough sport and we made ourselves strong from nothing,” she says.
“We are the fist all-female team not just in Palestine, but in the Middle-East. There are not many things that we allow to stand in our way. We just want girls to fight for their dreams.”
A modern-day inspiration for Arab women and indeed females with racing ambitions across the world, Maysoon adds: “We are glamorous, and at first, people thought that we were models and then when men see what we can do in a car, they are pretty shocked.
“We stand up to men every day when we are racing and that is what women should do.”
Speed Sisters, directed by Amber Fares, is released on March 25.
Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1