Blog: Rami Khader

The manager of Diyar Palestinian women's football team writes about their current tour of the UK

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Diyar, a Palestinian women’s football team, is currently touring the UK from Bristol to Bath, Liverpool to Leeds and Sheffield and ending in London. I met Helen Marks of Liverpool Friends of Palestine in Bethlehem while she was touring Palestine earlier this year. At the beginning of our conversation I thought that this was just a hopeful idea, and that she would forget about her insistence to bring Diyar football team to the UK when she gets back to her normal life in Liverpool. It turned out that Helen was keen and has worked hard with a large group of people, friends and supporters to make this tour happen.

I only realised when Helen called me and asked me for the names of the team members and their passport information that we were really going to play in the UK and tour from one city to another, meeting old and new friends and playing football for Palestine.

The visas were very hard to get. We encountered many barriers and difficulties. A group of eight players with their coach were able to get visas initially but my colleague Jackline Jazrawi and I were not able to get ours until an hour before our initial leaving time from Bethlehem to Amman.

However, the challenges we had to overcome to get to the UK were all forgotten once here. We have encountered people who are very supportive of us and our cause. We have seen beauty through the works of so many people fighting for peace and justice on our behalf and they have made us feel at home just by their enormous energy and compassion for ending the long and tiring Israeli occupation on our lands.

Football for us is about nurturing hope, not
enforcing stereotypes

Football is more than a game. It is a matter of friendship, exchange and dialogue. Many people who have come to attend the games or knew about our tour were astonished by the fact that women in Palestine are not as they are portrayed in the media and that at Diyar there are women and female teenagers who are fighting for their rights even under occupation.

Football for us is more than losing or winning a game – it is about building up the next generation of women leadership, chasing our community to accept that men and women must have equal rights. It is about nurturing hope, not enforcing stereotypes. Football for all of us is not only the game but the sum of opportunities, friendships and community change it can bring to our children, women and families.

Diyar football team came to exist as one of the first women football teams in Palestine with only six players on board. I remember when I watched their first training session I thought that the way would be very long – but it was much easier and shorter than I thought. Now we train over 100 female football players at Diyar Academy for Children and Youth, distributed between five teams who are active in the Palestinian league and community.

Many teams in the West Bank have followed our example as they have seen the tremendous effect of women’s football on the women themselves, their families and the wider community. Women’s football is one of the most celebrated phenomena in Palestine, with more than 20 women’s teams in the West Bank and hundreds of players who not only raise their voices as Palestinian women but creatively resist the status quo by telling their stories of hope and resilience as women lead the way into real change in Palestine.

Living under Israeli occupation is not easy but we have learned that the physical barriers, walls and checkpoints are not as oppressive as the emotional barriers, walls and checkpoints they create in this long and tiring occupation, and which can erupt in people’s minds, convincing them that the cycle of oppression is their only heaven.

We at Diyar women football team believe that the sky is our limit even if we live in a city surrounded by a gigantic wall and many military checkpoints. We refuse to live in victimhood but instead creatively resist the Israeli occupation through our talents.

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