All-female Palestinian motor racing team the Speed Sisters have overcome skeptical parents, public disapproval and the realities of the Israeli occupation to become local heroes.
There are six drivers – both Muslims and Christians, from their 20s to mid-30s – in the first-ever women’s racing team in the Middle East.
The Speed Sisters are headed by Maysoon Jayyusi, with the 36-year-old saying her love of fast cars was born out of the frustrating hours wasted at the Israeli checkpoints.
“I feel such depression at the checkpoints, but this speed makes me feel like I’m powerful, it helps me expel my depression,” she told AFP. “When the soldier finally lets you past, you feel like you want to fly.”
“We feel we are free when we’re doing this,” Mona Ennab, Jayyusi’s teammate, added. “It’s a way to escape everything around us.”
Both women learnt how to drive without permission from their parents, and had to keep their adventures on the track secret from their families.
“I used to steal my sister’s car and drive it around without a license,” Ennab laughed.
It was from the newspapers that Jayyusi’s parents found out that their daughter is a racing driver.
“My mum was like ‘Oh my God, you’re going to die!’” she recalled, adding that despite giving her full support, her mother is still afraid to look at her daughter behind the wheel.
The Speed Sisters’ story began in 2010 when the head of the Palestinian Motor Sport Federation, Khaled Qaddoura, invited Jayyusi to the training camp along with several other women.
“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.”
The drivers now improve their skills in the parking lot of a West Bank slaughterhouse, which is the only suitable place for the team to practice.
Another team member, Betty Saadeh, was born in Mexico and lived in the US before moving back to Palestine with her family at the age of 13.
“I want to be here, it’s my country. Why not show the world that Palestinian women can do anything?” the 31-year-old stressed. “When I compete with the Palestinian flag, it shows what we want, that we want a country, that we deserve a country.”
The Speed Sisters, who are supported by the British Consulate in Jerusalem, recently visited Britain’s Silverstone circuit, which boosted the women racers’ ambitions even further.
“I want to compete internationally at Formula One,” Saadeh said. “My dream is to race at Silverstone as a professional.”