The Faisal Husseini International Stadium in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday was the scene of the first ever international soccer match between the Jordanian women's soccer team and its Palestinian counterpart.
The 22 women making up both teams marched onto the field wearing hijabs, the traditional head covering for Muslim women, and were greeted by an enthusiastic, roaring crowd, made up of tens of thousands of Palestinian women.
The Palestinian Women's Soccer League was formed by Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestine Sports Association and former National Security Advisor to late Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Cheering for the home team (Photo: AFP)
The idea, he said, was a hard sell: "One I took office I knew I wanted to form a women's soccer club, but as traditional as Palestinian society is, many sheikhs and clerics were appalled by the notion."
The VIP section of the stadium was adorned with posters of Arafat, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdulla II of Jordan. Rajoub, along with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and various Palestinian ministers were treated to a front row seat, as were Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) and a representative of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).
As customary in soccer games, the captains of both teams shook hands, flags were exchanged and as soon as the referee blew his whistle, the 22 women began a fevered dash across the field.
"The Palestinian society is still struggling with women's liberation, so for me, soccer is a challenge, Honey Thaljieh, captain of the Palestinian National Women Soccer Team, said.
Thaljieh also played the political angle: "We live in a difficult reality and as a Palestinian woman living under occupation I want to use this to communicate the message that we all just want to live. For me, soccer is a message of life, love and peace."
When peace is achieved with Israel, she added, her team will gladly play against its Israeli counterpart.
The captain of the Jordanian soccer team added that her team will play against Israel when there is full normalization between Amman and Jerusalem.
Soccer has always been popular among Palestinian men and is widely considered a focal point of Palestinian solidarity. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' prime minister in Gaza, was an avid soccer player in his youth.
Though women's soccer is a relatively new sport in the West Bank, the Palestinian Women's Soccer League – formed only one year ago – has 40 teams. According to Rajoub, every Palestinian university has a team and even east Jerusalem has one.
The game against Jordan, which ended in a 2:2 draw, was the Palestinian National Women Soccer Team's first public game in the West Bank, since all of its games until now were played abroad.
Jordan's team is considered one of the top women's soccer teams in the world.