Noor Daoud drifting - Speed Sisters - please do not use
[Amber Fares/Al Jazeera]
From: Witness

Speed Sisters: Palestine’s All-Female Racing Car Team

Bold, fearless and tearing up tracks across the West Bank: meet the first all-female racing car team in the Middle East.

Editor’s note: This film is no longer available to view online.

Despite a tangle of roadblocks and checkpoints, a thriving street car racing scene has emerged in the occupied West Bank. Held at improvised tracks, the races offer a release from the pressures and uncertainties of life under military occupation. 

Brought together by a common desire to live life on their own terms, the Speed Sisters have joined the ranks of dozens of male drivers competing against each other for the title, for bragging rights for their hometown, and to prove that women can go head-to-head with the guys.

Weaving together their lives on and off the track, Speed Sisters sheds light on the rivalries within the team, the pressures the women feel from their communities, and their drive to go further and faster than anyone thought they could.

Noor Daoud [Tanya Habjouqa/Al Jazeera]
Noor Daoud [Tanya Habjouqa/Al Jazeera]


By Amber Fares

Post-9/11, I felt that I needed to better understand my Arab heritage in order to make sense of what was going on in the country where I was born, Canada.

The reaction in Canada was very similar to the one in the United States. I suddenly felt like I went from being a citizen to a suspect in a blink of an eye.

In 2002, I packed my bags and went to Lebanon for four months to work with Palestinian refugees. This started my fascination with the Middle East and my desire to use film as a way to humanise one of today’s most talked-about, yet misrepresented “others” in the media.

After some years, I found myself in Palestine, where I had been introduced to some female racing car drivers. We became friends and they invited me to join them at a race in Jenin. I had never been to Jenin before, but I did know that it had a reputation for being a tough place with a lot of tough guys who were proud of their fierce “freedom fighters” during the First and Second Intifadas.

Following one of the women around as she searched for a car to race with, I eventually found myself on a side street in Jenin. While she was test-driving a car by pulling doughnuts in the middle of the street with several dozen young men watching her and cheering her on, I was struck by both the fact that there are women racing car drivers in Palestine and by the amount of support they were receiving.

Here began my journey with the Speed Sisters, the Middle East’s first all-female racing car driving team.

Marah Zahalka [Screengrab/Al Jazeera] 
Marah Zahalka [Screengrab/Al Jazeera] 

I spent four years with the Speed Sisters, forging a very personal relationship with each of them and their families. They each took me on a ride through Palestine that I will never forget. 

They also taught me how important it was to push boundaries while being respectful to your community. Each one of them deeply loved their community and culture and wanted to do what they loved to do with the support of their community. They taught me about resistance, not giving up and being true to yourself. 

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I always thought this story would break many stereotypes about Arab women, even among Arab women themselves. But what I didn’t expect is that it would also have me questioning my own stereotypes with regards to Middle Eastern society and Arab men. 

It would have been easy to fall into the trap of fulfilling outside expectations and crafting a story on the fight against oppression by men. But in doing so I would only be reinforcing outside stereotypes of Arab men, and global stereotypes of the distinction between men and women. 

Betty Saadeh [Amber Fares/Al Jazeera]
Betty Saadeh [Amber Fares/Al Jazeera]

Maybe worse, the film would have overlooked and done an injustice to all those guys who have supported the Speed Sisters.

The head of the federation created a space for the women to race, the other male racers were incredibly supportive and helped their female counterparts whenever they could – and Marah’s father was as supportive as anyone could be.

By making their support a part of the story and sharing these men’s perspectives, I hoped to provide some counterbalance to the Western narrative of the Arab male, as well as providing positive role models for gender attitudes for other men.

On the surface, Speed Sisters is about a team of female racing car drivers from Palestine. But more importantly, it is a film about the human drive to break through the obstacles in our lives in order to be true to ourselves – and our dreams. I believe that the story of the Speed Sisters can open up worlds of possibility in the imaginations of men and women, girls and boys in the Middle East and around the world.

Marah's father and brother watch her race [Amber Fares/Al Jazeera] 
Marah’s father and brother watch her race [Amber Fares/Al Jazeera]