Amber Fares


Badass 'Speed Sisters': The First Palestinian Women's Auto Racing Team

Cars represent far more than transportation for the Speed Sisters.

It’s 7 a.m. in Jenin and the last of the oversized wooden crates have just been cleared out of the open-air vegetable market. A group of volunteers in bright orange vests set cones where chalk marks have been scratched on the asphalt. The Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation’s banner flutters alongside those of local corporate sponsors. Food vendors begin their rounds as a crowd gathers around the track.

Despite restrictions on mobility and movement, organizers erect makeshift racetracks in major cities across the occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank. Beyond the vegetable stalls of Jenin, cars can be seen racing on Arafat’s former helicopter pad in Bethlehem, on a tarmac in the 10,000 year old city of Jericho, in a main street nestled in the valley of Nablus, in the lot outside a transit point and prison at the edges of Ramallah. The motor races provide a release from the pressures of everyday life and the spirited competition between cities brings spectators out in the thousands, lining rooftops and leaning over barricades to photograph the best shots of the day and to see final times on the digital scoreboard.

The first car peels off the line and screeches around the cones, nearly drowned out by the cheers of hundreds of fans energized by the day of motor racing ahead. They are young men, mostly, boys, and a few families with kids. The more nimble have climbed atop the buildings and shipping crates to get a better view. And then, the crowd is suddenly quiet, their eyes tracking the black hatchback entering the track.

“Nummber two! Marrrrrrrah, from Jenin!” The crowd erupts. “Huh? A girl?” one guy asks. Marah, the 20-year-old racing prodigy, drives up to the start line. Jenin is home, and this is her turf. It was here that she first beat out most men to place in the top ten. Eyes closed, she whispers a passage of self-encouragement from the Koran. Her fingers chart the course in the air that she is tracing in her mind, that she has been doodling in the pages of her course books for days, that she has been seeing in her sleep. It loops and weaves. It seems to never end.

But she knows it now. She’ll find her way.

Marah is not alone. Brought together by a common desire to live life on their own terms, several determined Palestinian women have taken on the street car speed test circuit of the West Bank—competing against each other for the title of fastest woman, for bragging rights for their home city, and to prove that women can compete head on with men in Palestine and beyond. Together they have been acclaimed as the first all-women motor racing team in the Middle East—the “Speed Sisters.”

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