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Palestinian women race car drivers leave gender barriers in the dust

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Brynn Utela

(Read caption) Three of the eight Speed Sisters watch the races.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Betty Saadeh, glamorously coiffed, revs the turbo engine of her bright red Golf GTI, her family name emblazoned on the hood in yellow. In a few seconds she will be screeching around vicious corners at speeds that send up smoke from the tires, performing “doughnut” spins and hand-brake turns. The race is timed, but the emphasis is on agility.

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Ms. Saadeh (pictured, left) is one of a group of eight female racing drivers who are quickly breaking gender barriers in the West Bank’s Muslim society. The Speed Sisters have in the past year competed against the toughest male drivers in the expanding car racing scene here.

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The women have gone from being novelty racers to contenders. “You should laugh at the boys – they said that we couldn’t beat them,” says Mona Ennab, who races a souped-up 2006 Opel Astra. “But at the Bethlehem race this year the Speed Sisters came first in their category.”

Ms. Ennab is one of the first Palestinian women drivers, with seven years’ racing experience. She was invited to Palestinian Motorsport Federation races after she was spotted tearing around the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“It was tough at first; people said that it wasn’t right for women to compete against men,” she says. But that hasn’t stopped them. This month the team is for the first time competing in professional races in Jordan.

The ladies can often be found at dusk practicing on a dusty stretch in “Area C,” the part of the West Bank controlled by the Israeli army. Traffic regulations don’t apply here.