For the first time in Israel's history, a member of the Druze community has claimed the winner’s spot on the podium for an national championship in an Olympic sport. Karouan Halabi, from the Druze village of Daliat el-Carmel, who was last month crowned the Israeli champion in track and field, hopes she is a role model for other women in her community.
“Based on the reactions I’ve had on Facebook since the results of the competition had been announced, I’ve come to realize that I have honored my community. It is important that this title has meaning beyond sports," Halabi wrote on her Facebook account. "I am proud to be the first ever Druze champion in athletics.”
“How come there has never been a Druze champion before? I didn’t look into it, but apparently there is a lack of awareness when it comes to individual Olympic events," said Karouan. "I haven’t been in this sport for a long time. When I was studying at the (Haifa) Technion, I took a course in long-distance running and that’s how I started.”
Ever since Karouan started competing, her parents, Khalil and Aziemia Halabi, have been accompanying her to every competition. Khalil, a retired superintendent in the Border Police and a former commander of the Border Police in Jerusalem, said Karouan had asked for his blessings before she began competing professionally.
"I told her, 'If you have the talent, do it.' For me, Karouan is a pioneer and not only in athletics. She is an outstanding medical engineering student, and she excels in athletics while maintaining all the values of the Druze community," said her father.
Out of respect for Druze traditions, Karouan trains while wearing long-sleeved shirts. "Vests? Absolutely not," said her coach Gil Lotem.
Karouan’s first track and field race was a 10,000-meter run in the Israeli championship last year, where she felt she stood no chance against the eventual winner Luna Chamtai ("It was not the stars," Karouan says), and Maor Tiyouri, an Olympic runner and national record holder in the 5,000 metres.
“I do not want to set unrealistic goals for myself at the moment,” added Karouan. “I want to concentrate on the process. If I get to the very top, I will fully devote myself to athletics. In the meantime, if I see that more Druze women are following my lead, it will let me know that I did something important.”