#09 Prejudice
Jackline Jazrawi / Eva-Maria Verfürth

Interview: "A Message of Freedom"

Checkpoints, soldiers, refugee camps: life in the Palestinian territories is shaped by the hardships of the conflict with Israel. But every once in a while the image changes. "Palestinian soccer games are like big wedding parties," tells Jackline Jazrawi, the captain of the national women's soccer team. To her, playing soccer is a constant struggle for freedom.

Women's soccer is still a new sport in Palestine. Does it differ from women's soccer in other places?

It's different in Palestine than in other countries where female soccer players have everything they need to play well: good trainers, good fields, freedom of movement. There women play because they love the game and want to show their skills. Of course, we also want to play soccer and have fun. But our first goal is to pass on a message – a message of freedom. We play the game of peace and fair play without differentiating between competitors. At every event, in every match, we feel that we have to transmit this positive feeling.

In 2009 for the first time, an international women's soccer match took place in your home country. You played against the national team from Jordan. Why was this match so important?

It is always a big honour for us to bring people from abroad to our country. Many people haven't ever heard of Palestine before – and on the map, they'll only find Israel. 2009 was the very first time we were able to welcome a women's soccer team to our land. That's also the reason we are always very motivated. When Japan, the current World Cup champion, played here in Palestine for instance, we knew that it would end in a resounding defeat. But we still said that we wanted to win the match.

"Many people haven't heard of Palestine before – and on the map, they'll only find Israel."

When you have an important game in your country, men and women from all over the West Bank come to see it. Why are they so interested?

It's true; some games are like big Palestinian wedding parties where everybody is invited. There are so many more spectators than in other countries! Men and women of all different ages participate. They come because it is a big event and because they like soccer. Most of them are men, and many might not have expected good matches in the beginning. But they have changed their minds about women's soccer and now they encourage us a lot.

Does the conflict with Israel affect your proceedings?

Of course it does. Players are often late to the national team trainings, for instance, as it is difficult to travel inside the West Bank. When I travel from Bethlehem to Ramallah, and there is a checkpoint along the way, they might not let me through. Furthermore transportation costs for the players who come from Jerusalem are very high.

You have to travel abroad a lot for tournaments too – you've been to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Recently you went to Germany where you met Willi Lemke, the UN-Adviser on Sport, and trained with the Werder Bremen soccer team. Isn't it even more difficult to get there?

Travelling abroad is not a problem. Just imagine, we've already played in Malaysia, Japan and Italy too. And I've been to Germany four times. Getting there is much easier than going to Jerusalem, which is just a few kilometres away. It is hard to get permission to go into Israel; whereas we only need an invitation from the host country in order to travel abroad.

"Travelling abroad is much easier than going to Jerusalem, for instance."

As a teen, you played mostly basketball. How did you end up becoming a soccer star?

In Palestine it is unusual for girls to play soccer. But during my first year of university in 2006, the representative of the sports department saw me playing basketball and she asked me to join the soccer team. First I hesitated, because I didn't know how people would react if I started practicing a boys' sport. But I also knew the founder of the team, Honey Thaljieh. So I went to practice once. I loved it! The coach was so kind and the girls so friendly.

Hadn't you ever played soccer before?

When I was little I often played with the neighbour's boys. But at the age of twelve I stopped because people would always tell me to stay at home, since girls who play soccer are considered boyish. My parents accepted that I was playing, but they also said it'd be better not to train outside in the neighbourhood because of the community.

You studied biology and medical technology at university. What do you do when you aren't playing soccer?

I've been working as a teacher in a private school in Beit Jala, West Bank for five years now, and I'm currently participating in a graphic design course. Furthermore, I also train a soccer team for younger girls at my club.

Your club is the Diyar women's soccer team from Bethlehem. What is special about it?

When the team was founded in 2003, it was the first women's soccer team in Palestine. It started off with 10 girls – the only girls who were playing soccer at that time. The team was founded at university and so it was called the "Bethlehem University" team in the beginning. But now it is part of the Diyar consortium of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem, which is a sports club that specialises in women's sports. We also have a volleyball, a basketball and a swim team for younger girls.

"When the team was founded in 2003, it started off with 10 girls – the only girls who were playing soccer in Palestine at that time."

A lot has changed since the foundation of the Bethlehem University team. You're not the only team anymore; there are now Palestinian tournaments and the national team plays at an international level.

Afterwards teams began springing up all over Palestine. In 2008, when Jibril Rajoub became President of the Palestinian Football Association, he started strongly promoting women's soccer. He organised important international games, like the one against Jordan in 2009 we mentioned before. Today, there are 16 women's teams with around 100 girls that play in the country, though only six of them play on a fairly professional level.

How were you able join the national team?

In the beginning, our Bethlehem University club participated in international championships as the national team because it was the only team we had. That was before 2008. It was very chaotic at that time; they sent us different coaches for every tournament and I wasn't playing anywhere near as well as I can today. But in 2008, thanks to Jibril Rajoub, a really good coach from Jordan started training us and everything got more organised. I was chosen as a defender.

Women soccer has grown significantly in Palestine in recent years – from one club in 2003 to about 16 teams playing today. How did the word about women's soccer spread in the beginning?

The first girl to play soccer in Palestine was Honey Thaljieh, our former captain and founder of the team. She had played in her neighbourhood and participated in boys' tournaments as the only girl. She was the one who motivated many of her friends to join the team. Some other players have just joined by chance. Our national keeper, for instance, who is definitely the best one we have ever had, was from my team: Nadin Alkolayb. She once came with her sister to watch us practice. As our keeper was absent that day, we asked her to just stand in the goal as a substitute. But then she did really well! That's how we discovered her. Now she is the number one in Palestine.

"We asked her to just stand in the goal as a substitute for our keeper. That's how we discovered her. Now she is the number one in Palestine."

Some of Diyar's players wear headscarves, some do not. Does religion matter to you?

We are a mixture of Christians and Muslims, but that's not important to us. We are like one big family. Although I am a Christian, I visit my Muslim friends during their religious holidays.

In an interview you once said that you want to show that Palestinian women can do the same things as men. Is this one of the reasons you play soccer?

If I want to do a sport because I am good at it and it's fun, why shouldn't I play? If boys can travel to other countries to represent their country, why can't I? I want to be free to do whatever I like and to travel wherever I want just like men do. Here we are used to living with restrictions. My grandmother's generation, for instance, only used to cook and raise children. But this has changed. Today you can see girls doing sports, and studying and working outside the home.

"Today you can see girls doing sports, and studying and working outside the home."

There was a German newspaper article about the Diyar team entitled: "No one will marry her anymore". Is it true that boys aren't interested in you, or is that just a stereotype?

It can't be true, because I'm in a relationship. Several girls of our team have boyfriends. This primarily depends on their backgrounds – many girls from the villages aren't allowed to have a boyfriend before marriage. But nevertheless they are allowed to play soccer.

A Palestinian father once told me that he would never allow his daughter to play soccer. How did your family and friends react?

They encourage me. They even accept that I travel a lot. That is important, because some parents don't allow their daughters to travel, not even to other cities in the West Bank.

Has soccer changed your life?

It has changed my personality – I can deal with different mentalities now and I have gotten to know other countries. I have also become more self-confident and don't care what other people think anymore. And I have gotten somewhat famous.

What do you mean by "somewhat famous"?

Everybody knows me as a national team player in Bethlehem at least. At events, people from the press see me and say "Hi captain, how are you?" And at soccer games, people ask me for my autograph. You can even find information about me on the internet. Yes, you can get famous through soccer. In contrast my friends who are just working and studying aren't known for doing something important.

Match of the Palestinian women's soccer team against United Arabic Emirates

Issue #09

Who's your favourite soccer player?

Marta from Brazil. I saw her play in Germany at the Women's World Cup, where I watched the Brazil-Austria game in Mönchengladbach.

What is your aim in life?

I want to be both a good mother and a good soccer player or coach. But I still need to work on my personality so that I can be a role model for younger girls and a good representative for my country when I'm abroad.

"I still need to work on my personality so that I can be a role model for younger girls and a good representative for my country when I'm abroad."

When is your next game – and are you going to win?

Tomorrow we have a friendly game between the Diyar club and the national women under-19 team. I don't know if we can win. We'll be just 10 players, and some of them have to travel, so you never know if they'll make it. But we'll give it our best.

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