Fast women of the Middle East feel the burn

By Jessica Elgot, January 19, 2012
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Super cool: Betty Sa'adeh

Super cool: Betty Sa'adeh

In the male-dominated world of streetcar racing, three Palestinian women racers have begun their quest for international glory - starting in the UK.

The Middle East's first all-girl streetcar racing team, "Speed Sisters", were in London this week and training at Silverstone race track. They are three female drivers from Ramallah and Bethlehem, sponsored by the British consulate in Jerusalem.

Noor Daoud, Betty Sa'adeh and team manager Maysoon Jayyusi have legions of fans on Facebook, in the Palestinian Territories, Israel and across the world. A feature-length documentary on the women is also in the works.

Last week, the trio were in the UK, at the invitation of the Motor Sports Association UK, doing a two-day intensive driver-training session at Silverstone, and visiting the Autosport International event. The British consulate in Jerusalem sponsored the visit, and have provided training, equipment and funding for a team car.

Some of the Speed Sisters

Some of the Speed Sisters

"It's a dream come true," said Ms Sa'adeh, 30, from Bethlehem. "The track is enormous, and the cars are much better. It's very different from where we are used to racing."

Despite her glamorous image, bright blonde hair and make-up, Ms Sa'adeh is a serious competitor, who has raced across the West Bank and in Jordan, winning four out of five races. "I'm ranked in the top eight in Palestine, including the boys," she said proudly. "People are fascinated by us because we are girls and we come from Palestine, from this conservative society, but all my friends and family are extremely supportive. I have never had any negative reaction from anybody. I have supporters from all over the world. I have Israeli fans, but they can't come to watch my races, because they take place in Palestine."

Ms Daoud won Israel's first legal car race in Eilat last month. She was permitted to enter because she has a Jerusalem ID and was the only Palestinian present, beating all her Israeli competitors. She was criticised by some Palestinians for racing against Israelis, but defended by her fellow Sisters. She has represented both Israel and Palestine in women's national football, and was also on the Palestinian Olympic swimming team.

"I would like to race in Israel too," said Ms Sa'adeh, "but I can't because my ID is Palestinian. I will go there if they change the rules." She is currently looking for sponsorship and a car to allow her to complete internationally."

Sue Sanders, chairman of the Women in Motorsport group at the MSA UK, accompanied the drivers on their visit, and has been out to visit them in the West Bank. "They are very, very determined, and they have raw talent," she said. "It's an amazing story."

Last updated: 12:42pm, January 19 2012