JERICHO, Nov 29 (JMCC) - Ibrahim al-Baja makes a hard turn. His car spins fast, its back wheels screaming and burning rubber on the hot tarmac. He swings away, speeding madly to the next cone, pounding music in his ears.
Welcome to Palestinian motor sporting. Friday’s race in Jericho
marked the fifth anniversary of the birth of the Palestinian Motorsport Federation.
Over 50 entrants gathered at a dusty car park next to the Jordanian border crossing. Barriers held back hundreds of spectators and police controlled the heavy flow of traffic to the event.
Cones were laid out on the car park and a hand drawn map denoted the route entrants should take. They are only shown the route the night before, says former racing driver Vega Khatib.
“All night long you see the racers pacing the track, memorizing the route.”
The course is a complex path of twists, turns, handbrake spins and zig-zags. It tests agility, but the real challenge is the clock. Each competitor has two rounds in which to set the best time.
Participants race in their own cars, ranging from BMWs to Fiestas. All are heavily souped up: bumpers lowered, engines enhanced, exhausts roaring. Each owner has invested time, effort and money in transforming his or her car into a super machine. Many are elaborately painted, the driver’s name emblazoned on the side.
Competitors come from Jerusalem
, the West Bank
and Jordan. There is a marked difference in the cars from Jordan, where motor sporting has been longer established.
Husam Salem, a Jordanian racing champion stands near his Toyota Corolla. Thirteen years of modifications have transformed the vehicle into a speed machine. All that remains inside is a roll cage and driver seat: the engine is enhanced and the bonnet carbon fiber.
“Palestinian motor-sporting is new,” says Salem. “We came to participate with our people and share our experience.”
Before the federation was established, explains Vega, street racing was only an illegal sport. Racers would gather in parts of the West Bank that are controlled by the Israeli military.
“We would meet every Friday near the Beitunia
checkpoint, the military would just watch curiously from the checkpoint tower, and the Palestinian police cannot reach those areas.”
When a motor sports federation was created in 20005, its motto was “get your talent on track and off the street.” Founder and chairman of the Palestine Motor Sports Federation Khaled Qaddura says, “The potential was always there. Palestine just needed someone to push the button to ignite the flame.”
The main problem racers face is funding. “It is known that motorsport is the most expensive sport around the world. Funding is always a problem,” he notes.
Palestinian cell phone company Wattaniya sponsors the races.
For the last five years, annual competitions have been held in Bethlehem
, Jericho, Nablus
. The federation is growing, and next year plans to introduce motorbike racing.
Nor is motorsport solely a man’s sport.
Mone Ennab has been competing for seven years. “At first it was tough, as people told me it was wrong for girls to compete with men,” she says. “The men also thought we could not beat them.”
But now the Speed Sisters are blazing a trail of success. Supported by the British consulate, the group of young women often ranks high in the results.
Glamorously coifed, wearing large sunglasses, Betty Sa'adeh sits in the driving seat of her bright red VW Golf, revving the engine. “We are sick of war,” she says. “We compete to have fun.”