Women’s Soccer in Palestine

Yay, another underdog team to root for. I suppose it’ll be even harder to find their gear than the Palestinian men’s team’s.

The Palestinians were playing the Jordanians. But more significant was that the women’s teams were playing, and for the Palestinian side it was the first international match played outdoors at home.

In Al Ram, just north of Jerusalem, signs of the Israeli occupation are never far away. The stadium sits half a block from Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. Though it is made up mostly of a fence, barbed wire and ditches, here in this urban environment it takes the form of a high, seemingly endless concrete wall.

But at Monday’s soccer game, Palestinians came together in a more peaceful endeavor for the cause. Though nonpartisan, the event clearly bore the stamp of the non-Islamist camp that holds sway in the West Bank.

Watching over the players on the field were huge posters of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas. A couple of images of King Abdullah II of Jordan had been hastily added. Several dignitaries attended, including the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad.

FIFA, the international governing body of football, as soccer is known in most of the world, also sent a representative, in a salute to the Palestinian commitment to the sport.

Most of the women played bareheaded, though one Palestinian and a few of the Jordanians wore hijabs and tights under their shorts. The Palestinian team’s captain, Honey Thaljieh, 24, is a Christian from Bethlehem. The youngest player, Aya Khatib, 14, is a Muslim from a refugee camp near Jericho.

For such a varied cross section of Palestinian society, an unusual harmony prevailed.

“There are no politics involved,” said Nur Nabulsi, 17, a member of the Palestinian team. “We play only for Palestine.”

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